Putin in the West: “We are not the ones threatening anyone”

MOSCOW (AP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday urged the West to respond “immediately” to Russia’s demand for security guarantees preventing NATO expansion in Ukraine, saying the United States is ” at the threshold of our house “.

Speaking at an annual marathon press conference, the Russian leader hailed talks with the United States that are expected to begin in Geneva next month as a “positive” move, but warned that Moscow expects them to do so. that the discussion produces rapid results.

“We have made it clear and precise to them that any further expansion of NATO to the East is unacceptable,” Putin said.

Moscow last week submitted draft security documents demanding that NATO deny membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries and cancel alliance military deployments in central and eastern Europe. A key principle of the alliance is that membership is open to any eligible country.

“Are we putting missiles near the American borders?” Putin said angrily. “No, it is the USA who came to us with their missiles, they are already on our doorstep. Is it an excessive demand not to place striking weapon systems near us? “

Moscow made its request amid rising tensions over a build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine that fueled fears of a possible invasion. US President Joe Biden warned Putin in a video call earlier this month that Russia would face “serious consequences” if it attacked Ukraine.

Russia denied plans to launch an attack, but described NATO expansion and arms deployment in Ukraine as a “red line.”

When asked on Thursday if he could provide a guarantee that Russia will not invade Ukraine, Putin replied: “You are the one who must give us guarantees and give them immediately, now, and not talk about it for decades. “

“How would the Americans react if we placed our missiles on the American borders with Canada or Mexico?” He apologized.

The United States and its allies have said they will not give Russia the kind of guarantee on Ukraine Putin wants. US officials hold talks with European allies ahead of the Geneva talks.

The Russian leader accused during his press conference that the West had “swindled, blatantly deceived” Moscow by verbally promising in the 1990s not to expand NATO’s presence to the East, then to l ” expand to integrate the countries of the former Soviet bloc in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Central and Eastern Europe. Soviet republics of the Baltic States.

“They said they weren’t going to develop, then they developed,” he said. “They said there would be equal guarantees for everyone, but there is no equal security. Sometimes it seems to me that we live in different worlds.

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 the following years, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia also joined, bringing NATO’s membership to 30 countries.

“We are not the ones threatening anyone,” Putin said. “Did we come to the American or British borders or elsewhere?” No, they came to us, and now they say Ukraine will be in NATO. Or they will simply set up bases there and strike weapons there on a bilateral basis. “

He accused the West of trying to make Ukraine an “anti-Russia, constantly reinforced with modern weapons and brainwashing the population.”

Russia cannot go on living in anticipation of the looming security threats posed by a possible Western weapons deployment in Ukraine, Putin said.

“Should Russia constantly look back at what’s going on and what new weapon systems are installed there? He apologized. “We have to think about ensuring our safety. “

He argued that Western weapons could encourage hawkish forces in Ukraine to attempt to regain control of the breakaway regions supported by Russia by force and even try to reclaim Crimea, which Russia annexed to Ukraine in 2014.

The Russian leader said Western expressions of concern over an alleged Russian invasion could be a prelude to Ukraine’s possible attempt to launch an offensive against rebels in the east after two botched attempts in the past.

“We have the impression that they are preparing a third military operation and are warning us not to get involved,” he said.

Ukrainian authorities have denied any intention to launch an offensive against the separatists. Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said on Thursday that Putin’s claim that Kiev was planning a military operation was false.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss responded to Putin’s comments by insisting that “NATO is a defensive alliance and Ukraine continues to show commendable restraint in the face of provocation and ‘Russian aggression’.

“Russia’s military reinforcements on the Ukrainian border and in illegally annexed Crimea are unacceptable,” Truss said. “Any Russian incursion would be a massive strategic error and would be fought with force, including sanctions coordinated with our allies to impose a severe cost on Russia’s interests and economy.”

Shortly after the annexation of Crimea, Moscow gave its support to a separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine. The fighting which lasted more than seven years killed more than 14,000 people and devastated the industrial heart of Ukraine, known as Donbass.

Putin’s press conference lasted nearly four hours and also covered a range of national issues. He dismissed criticism that Russia has designated dozens of media and critical activists as “foreign agents,” a pejorative label that involves additional government scrutiny and aims to undermine the credibility of those named.

Asked about his main political enemy, jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Putin again rejected claims that Russian authorities were behind the poisoning of Navalny with a nerve agent last year.

He vowed that prison officials involved in torturing detainees in Russian penitentiaries would be brought to justice, but said other countries were facing similar problems.

Putin, who is due to attend the Winter Olympics in China early next year, also criticized the US political boycott of the Beijing Games, describing it as a mistake and part of Washington’s efforts to contain the growing power. from China.

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Jill Lawless in London and Yuras Karmanau in Kiev, Ukraine contributed to this report.

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