MOSCOW (AP). On Tuesday, the Russian president reiterated his demand for guarantees from the US and its allies that NATO will not expand eastward, accusing the West of “tensions that are mounting in Europe.”
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Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech at a meeting with Russia’s top military leaders came just days after Moscow presented draft security documents requiring NATO to deny membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet states and curtail its military deployment in Central and Eastern Europe.
The demands contained in the proposed Russian-American security treaty and security agreement between Moscow and NATO were framed amid a surge in tensions over a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine, raising fears of a possible invasion. Russia denied that it had plans to attack its neighbor, but demanded legal guarantees that would rule out NATO expansion and the deployment of weapons there.
On Tuesday, Putin said that if US and NATO missile systems appeared in Ukraine, these missiles would reach Moscow in just a few minutes.
“For us, this is the most serious challenge – a challenge to our security,” he said, adding that this is why the Kremlin needs “long-term legally binding guarantees” from the West, and not “verbal assurances, words. and promises ”that Moscow cannot trust.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Washington is working with its European allies to counter what he called “Russian aggression” through diplomacy, but said President Joe Biden is opposed to the guarantees Putin is seeking.
“For many, many years, the President made it very clear to some basic principles, from which no one deviates: the principle according to which one country has no right to change borders by another force, that one country has no right – the right to dictate policy to another or to say that a country they can associate with, ”Blinken told reporters in Washington. “One country has no right to exert a sphere of influence. This concept should be thrown into the dustbin of history. “
Putin noted that NATO has expanded eastward since the late 1990s, reassuring that Russia’s fears are unfounded.
“What is happening now, the tension that is growing in Europe, is their fault (the United States and NATO) at every stage of the journey,” the Russian leader said. “Russia was forced to respond at every step. The situation continued to get worse and worse, get worse and worse. And now we are in a situation where we are forced to somehow solve it. “
Russia’s relations with the United States have fallen to a minimum since the end of the Cold War after it annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and backed the separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine that still controls the territory. Tensions have escalated again in recent weeks after Moscow has deployed tens of thousands of troops near the Ukrainian border.
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Putin demanded guarantees from the West that NATO would not expand into Ukraine or deploy its forces there, and raised the issue during a video call with US President Joe Biden two weeks ago.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday that more than 120 employees of US private military companies are currently operating in two villages in war-torn eastern Ukraine, training Ukrainian troops and setting up firing positions in residential buildings and various facilities.
Putin said the US “must understand that we have nowhere to retreat.”
“What they are now trying to do and are planning to do on the territory of Ukraine is not thousands of kilometers away, it is happening right at the doorstep of our house,” he said.
Putin added that Moscow hopes for “constructive, meaningful negotiations with a visible end result – and within a specific time frame – that will ensure equal security for all.”
“Armed conflicts, bloodshed are not our choice, and we do not want such a development of events. We want to resolve issues by political and diplomatic means, ”Putin said.
US Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried, the US chief diplomat in Europe, said at a briefing on Tuesday that Washington is “ready to discuss the proposals that Russia has brought to the table.”
“There are some things that we are ready to work on, and we really think the discussion makes sense,” Donfried told reporters after visiting Kiev, Moscow and Brussels.
“There are other things in these documents that, in the opinion of the Russians, will be unacceptable,” she added, without specifying which ones.
Donfried said bilateral US-Russian meetings are likely to take place in January, while talks within the NATO-Russia Council and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are likely to move in January as well.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday that he intends to convene a new meeting of the NATO-Russia Council as soon as possible in the New Year.
“Any dialogue with Russia should be based on the basic principles of European security and take into account NATO’s concerns about Russia’s actions,” Stoltenberg said.
On Tuesday evening, Putin discussed Russia’s proposals in telephone conversations with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. According to the Kremlin, Putin briefed Macron on “Moscow’s diplomatic efforts on this issue” and gave Scholz “in-depth comments” on drafts of a Russia-US security treaty and a NATO-Russia security agreement presented last week.
In a conversation with Scholz, “the hope was expressed that serious negotiations would be organized on all the issues raised by Moscow,” the statement said.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine was also discussed in both telephone conversations, with Putin arguing that Kiev did not want to abide by the Minsk Agreements, a peace deal brokered by France and Germany in 2015 that helped end widespread fighting in the region.
However, attempts to reach a political solution to the Ukrainian conflict, which have killed more than 14,000 people, have been unsuccessful, and sporadic clashes continue along the tense line of contact.
Associated Press contributors Angela Charlton in Paris and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.