Europe Politics

Putin says the West has ignored Russia's security concerns over NATO and Ukraine

Key Points
  • Putin was speaking at a press conference following talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, with whom Putin shares friendly ties, in Moscow on Tuesday.
  • It's the first time that Putin has commented publicly about the geopolitical crisis with Ukraine in weeks.
  • There has been a flurry of diplomatic meetings, calls and written exchanges between Russian and Western officials in recent weeks.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a news conference following talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Moscow, Russia February 1, 2022.
Yuri Kochetkov | Reuters

President Vladimir Putin accused Western nations of ignoring key Russian security concerns, following the U.S.' refusal last week to concede to Moscow's demands over Ukraine and NATO.

"It's already clear now ... that fundamental Russian concerns were ignored," Putin said at a press conference Tuesday, according to a Reuters translation.

Putin said that the U.S. wanted to "contain Russia" and that it was using Ukraine to do that, as he reiterated Russia's position that any possible membership of Ukraine in NATO would "undermine Russia's security."

"Let's imagine that Ukraine is a NATO member, it is fully packed of weapons, it gets advanced attack means like those in Poland and Romania and it starts an operation in Crimea," Putin said, describing Crimea, a part of Ukraine annexed by Russia in 2014, as a "sovereign Russian territory."

"Let's imagine that Ukraine is a NATO member state and it initiates a military operation. What should we do then, [should we] fight against the NATO bloc? Did anyone think at least something about that? Apparently not."

Nonetheless, Putin said he hoped dialog over Ukraine would continue and that a way needed to be found to, as he put it, "protect everyone's security."

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His comments followed talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, with whom Putin shares friendly ties, in Moscow.

It's the first time that Putin has commented publicly about the geopolitical crisis in weeks, despite a flurry of diplomatic meetings and calls between Russian and Western officials.

While over 100,000 Russian troops remain stationed at various points along Russia's border with Ukraine, there remains heightened concerns that Putin could be poised to give his troops a greenlight to invade Ukraine.

Russia has denied it is planning an invasion, but trust in Russia's word has been low ever since it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and supported pro-Russian separatists in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine. Political analysts believe that Russia wants to maintain its sphere of influence and power over former Soviet states and to stop Ukraine's gravitation toward the West.

Russia has insisted that it just wants to protect its security interests, particularly in the face of an expanded NATO that has deployed military hardware to eastern Europe. On the build-up of troops along its border with Ukraine, Putin has previously insisted late last year that Russia has a right to move its troops wherever it likes within its territory. The Kremlin has accused the West of stirring up "hysteria" over Ukraine.

Putin's comments comes after Russia made a series of security proposals to the U.S. in December, including its main demands that NATO does not expand further to the east or admit Ukraine to the military alliance. It would also like to see NATO rollback its military deployments in eastern Europe.

Putin echoed that position on Tuesday, stating that missile launchers in Romania and Poland, both of whom are NATO members, "are a threat to Russia."

Last week, the U.S. responded to those demands, refusing to accept Russia's key proposals over Ukraine and NATO. Still, it signaled a willingness to continue discussions aimed at calming tensions, and said there could be room for compromise in some areas potentially.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to speak to Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Russia's official response to the U.S. remains unknown, at this point, although it has reportedly delivered a written response to the U.S.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Mayor of Moscow Sergei Sobyanin at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia January 20, 2022.
Mikhail Metzel | Sputnik | Reuters

Putin's meeting with Orban Tuesday comes as European leaders step up their engagement with Moscow with Putin already having spoken to French President Emmanuel Macron and Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi this week. On Wednesday, he is due to speak to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was visiting Ukraine Tuesday.

Putin has not publicly commented on Ukraine since Dec. 23, according to the New York Times, which noted that he had chided a British journalist who asked, during Putin's annual news conference, whether he would guarantee that Russia would not invade Ukraine.

"It was the United States that came with its missiles to our home, to the doorstep of our home," Putin said.

"And you demand from me some guarantees. You should give us guarantees. You! And right away, right now."

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