Friday, February 3, 2023

Putin demands NATO guarantees not to expand east

MOSCOW (NWN). President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Moscow would seek guarantees from the West that would rule out any further NATO expansion and deployment of its weapons near Russia’s borders.

Putin’s announcement came amid concerns in Ukraine and the West over Moscow’s alleged plan to invade Ukraine. In response, Russian diplomats on Wednesday expressed concern about a buildup of Ukrainian military power near the separatist conflict zone in the east of the country.

Speaking at a ceremony in the Kremlin where he received credentials from foreign ambassadors, Putin stressed that Russia will strive for “lasting, reliable and long-term guarantees of its security.”

“In dialogue with the United States and its allies, we will insist on the development of specific agreements that exclude further NATO advance eastward and the deployment of weapons systems that threaten us in the immediate vicinity of Russian territory,” Putin said.

READ MORE: Putin said NATO troops in Ukraine will become a red line for Moscow

He said Russia was inviting the West to hold detailed talks on the issue, adding that Moscow would need “legal guarantees for its security.” The Russian leader noted that such agreements should take into account the interests of all countries.

Putin’s announcement came the day after he sternly warned NATO against stationing its troops and weapons in Ukraine, saying it represented a red line for Russia and would elicit a strong response.

Tensions have risen sharply in recent weeks over a buildup of Russian troops near Ukraine, alarming Ukrainian and Western officials, who saw this as a possible sign of Moscow’s intention to invade its former Soviet neighbor. NATO foreign ministers warned Russia on Tuesday that any attempt to further destabilize Ukraine would be a costly mistake.

The Kremlin insists that it has no such intentions, and has accused Ukraine and its Western supporters of claiming that they are covering up their allegedly aggressive designs.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the concentration of Ukrainian troops looks “alarming”, adding that he was going to raise the issue during a meeting of ministers of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Stockholm on Thursday. He again attacked Ukraine for failing to fulfill its obligations under the 2015 peace agreement, signed in Minsk with the mediation of France and Germany.

“Kiev is becoming more and more arrogant in its aggressiveness towards the Minsk agreements, the Russian Federation and in its attempts to provoke the West to support its military ambitions,” Lavrov said in his speech at the upper house of the Russian parliament.

READ MORE: President of Belarus proposes to host Russian nuclear weapons

The US State Department and the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Blinken and Lavrov would meet on Thursday on the sidelines of the OSCE meeting. A State Department spokesman said that Blinken will first meet with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Ukraine has deployed about 125,000 troops – about half of its armed forces – near the conflict zone. She also pointed to an increase in the number of ceasefire violations in the east of the country.

Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 after a Kremlin-friendly president was ousted from power in massive protests and backed a separatist uprising that erupted in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland known as the Donbass. More than 14,000 people were killed in the fighting.

Ukraine and the West accused Russia of sending troops and weapons to support the rebels. Moscow denies this, accusing that the Russians who joined the separatists were volunteers.

On Wednesday, in an address to parliament, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called for talks with Russia to end the conflict in the east.

“We must speak the truth – we cannot stop the war without direct negotiations with Russia,” Zelenskiy said. “We are not afraid of direct dialogue.”

The Kremlin responded by reiterating its long-standing position that Russia is not involved in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, describing the fighting in the east as a civil war. He stressed that he expects Kiev to fulfill its obligations under the 2015 Minsk Agreement.

“The war in Donbass is an internal affair of Ukraine,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “We know about attempts to make Russia a party to the conflict, but this is not the case. To end the war in Donbass is possible only through negotiations between Ukrainians. “

Peskov said the concentration of Ukrainian troops in Donbas could herald an attempt by Kiev to regain control of rebel-held territory.

“We are concerned that the propensity for a military solution to the Donbas problem may prevail,” Peskov said. “This is a very dangerous adventure.”

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Juras Karmanov from Kiev, Ukraine and Ellen Knickmeier from Washington contributed to this report.

Nation World News Desk
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