Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged the West to act quickly to meet Russia’s demand for security guarantees precluding NATO’s expansion to Ukraine and the deployment of the military alliance’s weapons there.
The Russian leader welcomed talks with the US that are set to start in Geneva next month, but sternly warned that Moscow expects the discussion to produce quick results.
“We have clearly and precisely let them know that any further NATO expansion eastward is unacceptable,” Mr Putin said on Thursday.
Last week, 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.
A key principle of the NATO alliance is that membership is open to any qualifying country.
“Is it us who are putting missiles near the US borders?” Mr Putin said.
“No, it’s the US who came to our home with their missiles. They are already on the threshold of our home. Is it some excessive demand not to place any offensive systems near our home?”
Moscow presented its demand amid soaring tensions over a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine that has stoked fears of a possible invasion.
US President Joe Biden warned Mr Putin in a conference call earlier this month that Russia will face “severe consequences” if it attacks Ukraine.
Mr Putin previously denied having plans to launch an attack, but has described a NATO expansion and weapons deployment in Ukraine as a “red line.”
Asked on Thursday if he could provide a guarantee that Russia will not invade Ukraine, Mr Putin snapped in response: “It’s you who must give us guarantees and give them immediately, now, and not have idle talk about it for decades.”
“How the Americans would respond if we put our missiles on the US borders with Canada or Mexico?” he exclaimed.
The US and its allies have said they won’t give Russia the kind of guarantee on Ukraine that Putin wants. American officials are conferring with European allies in advance of the Geneva talks.
The Russian leader charged during his news conference that the West had “cheated, blatantly swindled” Moscow by offering verbal pledges in the 1990s not to expand NATO’s presence east and then enlarging to incorporate former Soviet bloc countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet republics in the Baltics.
Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999, followed in 2004 by Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
In subsequent years, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia also joined, bringing NATO’s membership to 30 nations.
He accused the West of trying to make Ukraine “anti-Russia, constantly beefed up with modern weapons and brainwashing the population.”
Russia can’t keep living in anticipation of looming security threats posed by possible deployment of Western weapons in Ukraine, Mr Putin said.
The Russian leader claimed that Western expressions of concern about an alleged Russian invasion could be a prelude to a possible attempt by Ukraine to launch an offensive against the rebels in the east following two botched attempts in the past.
Ukrainian officials have denied an intention to launch an offensive against the separatists.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and shortly after cast its support behind a separatist rebellion in the country’s east.
The fighting, which started more than seven years ago, has killed over 14,000 people and devastated Ukraine’s industrial heartland, known as the Donbas.
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