Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech at a meeting with Russia’s top military brass came just days after Moscow submitted draft security documents demanding that NATO deny membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries and roll back the alliance’s military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe.
The demands — contained in a proposed Russia-US security treaty and a security agreement between Moscow and NATO — were drafted amid soaring tensions over a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine that has stoked fears of a possible invasion. Russia has denied it has plans to attack its neighbor but pressed for legal guarantees that would rule out NATO expansion and weapons deployment there.
Putin charged Tuesday that if US and NATO missile systems appear in Ukraine, it will take those missiles only minutes to reach Moscow.
“For us, it is the most serious challenge — a challenge to our security,” he said, adding that this is why the Kremlin needs “long-term, legally binding guarantees” from the West, as opposed to “verbal assurances, words and promises” that Moscow can’t trust.
Putin noted that NATO has expanded eastward since the late 1990s while giving assurances that Russia’s worries were groundless.
“What is happening now, tensions that are building up in Europe, is their (US and NATO’s) fault every step of the way,” the Russian leader said. “Russia has been forced to respond at every step. The situation kept worsening and worsening, deteriorating and deteriorating. And here we are today, in a situation when we’re forced to resolve it somehow.”
Russia’s relations with the US sank to post-Cold War lows after it annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and backed a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine that still controls territory there. Tensions reignited in recent weeks after Moscow massed tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine’s border.
Putin has pressed the West for guarantees that NATO will not expand to Ukraine or deploy its forces there and raised the issue during a video call with US President Joe Biden two weeks ago.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu charged Tuesday that more than 120 staff of U.S. private military companies are currently operating in two villages in war-torn eastern Ukraine, training Ukrainian troops and setting up firing positions in residential buildings and different facilities.
Putin said the US “should understand we have nowhere to retreat.”
“What they are now trying to do and plan to do at Ukraine’s territory, it’s not thousands of kilometers away, it’s happening right at the doorstep of our house,” he said.
Putin added that Moscow hopes “constructive, meaningful talks with a visible end result — and within a certain time frame — that would ensure equal security for all.”
“Armed conflicts, bloodshed is not our choice, and we don’t want such developments. We want to resolve issues by political and diplomatic means,” Putin said.
US Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried, the top US diplomat for Europe, said at a briefing Tuesday that Washington is “prepared to discuss those proposals that Russia put on the table.”
“There are some things we’re prepared to work on, and we do believe there is merit in having discussion,” Donfried told reporters after a visit to Kyiv, Moscow and Brussels.
“There are other things in those documents that the Russians know will be unacceptable,” she added, without specifying which ones.
Donfried said bilateral U.S.-Russia meetings are likely to happen in January, and talks within NATO-Russia Council, as well as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, are likely to see movement in January as well.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday that he intends to call a new meeting of the NATO-Russia Council as soon as possible in the New Year.
“Any dialogue with Russia needs to be based on the core principles of European security and to address NATO’s concerns about Russia’s actions. And it needs to take place in consultation with NATO’s European partners, including with Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said.
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