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Friday, January 21, 2022

Putin blames West for tension, seeks protection

by Daria Litvinova | The Associated Press

MOSCOW – The Russian president on Tuesday reiterated his demand for guarantees from the US and its allies that NATO will not expand east, blaming the West for “erupting tensions in Europe”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech at a meeting with Russia’s top military officials came just days after Moscow presented a draft security document demanding that NATO deny membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries and Withdraws the coalition’s military deployment in Central and Eastern Europe.

The demands – enshrined in a proposed Russia-US security pact and a security deal between Moscow and NATO – were drafted amid rising tensions over the creation of a Russian military near Ukraine that fueled fears of a possible invasion. Russia has denied that it has plans to attack its neighbour, but pressed for legal guarantees that would rule out NATO expansion and weapons deployment there.

Putin alleged on Tuesday that if the US and NATO missile systems appear in Ukraine, those missiles will take minutes to reach Moscow.

“For us, this is the most serious challenge – a challenge to our security,” he said, which is why the Kremlin needs “verbal assurances, contrary to words, “long-term, legally binding guarantees” from the West. and promises” on which Moscow cannot rely.

Putin noted that NATO has expanded eastward since the late 1990s and assured that Russia’s concerns were unfounded.

The Russian leader said, “What is happening now, the tensions that are building in Europe, it is their (US and NATO’s) fault at every step.” “Russia has been forced to respond at every step. The situation was getting worse and worse, worse and worse. And we are here today, in a situation when we are forced to somehow solve it.”

Russia’s ties with the US fell to a post-Cold War low after Ukraine annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and backed a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine that still controls the region there. Tensions have resumed in recent weeks after Moscow massacred tens of thousands of soldiers near the Ukrainian border.

Putin has pressed the West for guarantees that NATO will not expand into Ukraine or deploy its forces there and raised the issue two weeks ago during a video call with US President Joe Biden.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu alleged on Tuesday that more than 120 employees of US private military companies are currently working in two villages in war-torn eastern Ukraine, training Ukrainian troops and firing at residential buildings and various facilities. position is established.

Putin said the US “must understand that we have nowhere to turn.”

“What they are trying to do and plan to do on the territory of Ukraine now, it is not thousands of kilometers away, it is happening at the doorstep of our house,” he said.

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Putin said Moscow hopes for “constructive, meaningful dialogue with a visible end result – and within a certain time frame – that will ensure equal protection for all.”

“Armed conflict, bloodshed is not our choice, and we do not want such development. We want to resolve the issues through political and diplomatic means,” Putin said.

The top US diplomat for Europe, US Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried, told a briefing on Tuesday that Washington is “ready to discuss the proposals that Russia has put on the table.”

“There are some things we are ready to work on, and we believe there is merit to discuss,” Donfried told reporters after his visit to Kiev, Moscow and Brussels.

“There are other things in those documents that the Russians know would be unacceptable,” she said, without specifying which.

Donfried said the bilateral US-Russia meeting is likely to take place in January, and also likely to see movement in January within the NATO-Russia Council as well as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday that he intended to convene a new meeting of the NATO-Russia Council as soon as possible in the new year.

“Any dialogue with Russia must be based on the fundamentals of European security and address NATO’s concerns about Russia’s actions. And this needs to happen in consultation with NATO’s European partners, including Ukraine,” Stoltenberg he said.

On Tuesday evening, Putin spoke on the phone with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz about Russia’s proposals.

According to readouts released by the Kremlin, Putin informed Macron of Moscow’s “diplomatic efforts on the subject” and Scholz on the draft of a Russia-US security pact and a security deal between Russia and NATO last week. Gave “detailed comment”.

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