© Alexander NEMENOV / AFP
What started as a military operation has escalated after the West became a participant, Dmitry Peskov has said.

Russia's military operation in Ukraine has turned into full-fledged war after the West became a participant in the conflict, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview with national media published on Friday.

Moscow will continue to pursue its goal of ensuring that the Ukrainian military cannot pose a threat to Russian citizens or territory, the spokesman told the Argumenti i Fakty newspaper, noting that the country now has four new federal subjects which must be protected and fully liberated from Kiev's forces.

Peskov stressed that Russia cannot allow the existence on its borders of a state that publicly claims it will seize the Crimean Peninsula as well as Russia's new territories, referring to the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics and Zaporozhye and Kherson regions.
"We are at war," Peskov stated, explaining that while the conflict began as a special military operation, as soon as "the collective West became a participant in this on the side of Ukraine, for us it became a war."
In a phone conversation with journalists later in the day, Peskov explained that despite the conflict "de facto turning into a war," legally it remains classified in Russia as a special military operation and that nothing has changed in that regard.

The Russian Defense Ministry recently reported that since the start of the military operation in Ukraine in February 2022, over 13,000 foreign nationals have taken part in the fighting on the side of Kiev's forces.

Of these fighters, which Moscow describes as mercenaries, some 5,962 have been "eliminated," according to the ministry. Most of them came from Poland, Georgia, the US, Canada, the UK, Romania, Germany, and France, it reported.

The head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Sergey Naryshkin, claimed earlier this week that France is preparing its forces for deployment to Ukraine and is allegedly looking to send as many as 2,000 troops to fight for Kiev.

French President Emmanuel Macron has hinted in recent weeks at the possible deployment of NATO forces to Ukraine, stating he could not "exclude" this possibility while branding Russia an "adversary."

Moscow has warned that such a step would likely lead to a direct clash between Russian and NATO forces, which, according to President Vladimir Putin, would be "one step shy of a full-scale World War III."