“They’re already on our doorstep”: Putin steps up rhetoric against the West

MOSCOW, Russia (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 and the deployment of Russian weapons. military alliance there.

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, but sternly warned that Moscow expects the discussion to produce quick 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 NATO alliance is that membership is open to any eligible country.

“Are we putting missiles near the American borders?” Putin said. “No, it was the United States that came to us with their missiles. They are already on the doorstep of our house. Is it an excessive demand not to place offensive 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 on a conference call earlier this month that Russia would face “serious consequences” if it attacked Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin during his annual press conference in Moscow, Russia, December 23, 2021 (AP Photo / Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Putin has previously denied planning to launch an attack, but described a 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 in his press conference that the West had “blatantly deceived, defrauded” Moscow by offering verbal promises in the 1990s not to expand NATO’s presence in the East, then to enlarge it 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.

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.

Ukrainian tanks are transported to the Luhansk region of Ukraine on December 12, 2021. (AP Photo / Andriy Dubchak)

“We are not the ones threatening anyone,” Putin said. “Did we come to the American or British borders? No, they have come to us, and they are now saying that Ukraine will be in NATO.

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 the possible deployment of Western weapons 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.

Russian President Vladimir Putin during his annual press conference in Moscow, Russia, December 23, 2021 (AP Photo / Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Ukrainian officials have denied any intention to launch an offensive against the separatists.

Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula from Crimea in 2014 and soon after supported a separatist rebellion in the east of the country. The fighting, which began over seven years ago, has left more than 14,000 dead and devastated Ukraine’s industrial heart, 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 pledged that authorities involved in torturing detainees in Russian prisons would be brought to justice, but said other countries are 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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