Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Russia not invading Ukraine will hinge on “unconditional compliance with Russian security demands” regarding NATO expansion to the east.
“Speaking of security guarantees … our actions will not depend upon the negotiations, they will depend on the unconditional compliance with Russian security demands,” Putin told reporters at his yearly marathon press conference, when asked about whether he could guarantee that Russia would not invade Ukraine.
“We have made clear that any further NATO movement to the east is unacceptable,” he added.
Putin’s comments weren’t a significant escalation from recent Russian demands that the U.S. should pull back troops from European countries that joined the alliance from the late 1990s onwards and should block any former Soviet republics like Ukraine from joining — effectively rewriting Europe’s security environment. Washington has rejected the demands but is open to talks with Moscow.
Western countries are on edge as Russia continues to build up its troop numbers along its border with Ukraine, in what analysts fear could be a prelude to a potential invasion. The U.S. and the EU have warned the Kremlin that it would face crippling sanctions if it does launch an attack against Ukraine.
Ukraine is already struggling with its years-long war in the east of the country against Russian-supported separatists that has killed 13,000; Russia also illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.
“We’re not threatening anyone,” the Russian president said, claiming that Russia’s being threatened instead. “You must give us the guarantees,” Putin said, addressing the West. “It is up to you, and you must do this immediately, right now, instead of keep talking about this for decades.”
Putin claims he is reacting to a NATO security threat since Ukraine has been pressing for NATO membership. “The U.S. is deploying its missiles close to our home. They’re on our doorstep,” he said. “We’re simply demanding them not to deploy their attack systems at our home. What is so unusual or peculiar about that?”
He added that the Western security alliance allegedly broke its promise not to expand eastward. “We said not an inch to the east — that was a NATO guarantee in 1990. So, what became of that? They fooled us. We’ve seen five waves of NATO expansion. Now, they’re in Romania and Poland,” Putin said.
That Russian narrative of a guarantee against expansion is rejected by the alliance. “There is no record of any such decision taken by NATO,” it says.
During the four-hour conference, Putin also claimed that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is being dominated by “Nazi” influences and that people are being “brainwashed” in Ukraine.
The Russian president added that it was U.S. President Joe Biden who asked for talks in early January to resolve the growing tensions on the border with Ukraine within the forum of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). “I told him that we would promptly send and submit our proposals and we are ready to talk,” Putin said.
“You can do whatever you want about your concerns,” Putin said, addressing the West. “We’ll do whatever we need. What is unclear? I believe everything is clear. We’re thinking about our own security.”
British Foreign Minister Liz Truss condemned what she called “the Kremlin’s aggressive and inflammatory rhetoric against Ukraine and NATO.”
“The only way out of the current situation for Russia is through dialogue and I welcome the fact that Russia has signalled it is willing to enter talks in January,” she added.