President Vladimir Putin yesterday accused the West of ignoring Moscow’s security concerns and of using Ukraine as a tool to contain Russia, though he said he hoped a solution could be found to end spiralling tensions.
Putin said the Kremlin was studying a response from Washington and Nato to Moscow’s security demands, but that it had been far from adequate.
They were his first public remarks for weeks on the crisis which has been fuelled by fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“It is already clear that fundamental Russian concerns ended up being ignored,” Putin told reporters after talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Moscow.
Putin repeated Russia’s demands for legally binding security guarantees against further Nato expansion and the deployment of strike facilities near Russia’s borders, as well as for Nato’s return to military positions from before 1997.
“It seems to me that the United States is not so much concerned about the security of Ukraine,” he said. “The main task is to contain Russia’s development.”
“Ukraine itself is just a tool to achieve this goal,” Putin added. “This can be done in different ways. Drawing us into some kind of armed conflict. And to force, among other things, their allies in Europe to impose the tough sanctions against us that the United States is talking about.”
Putin described a potential future scenario in which Ukraine was admitted to Nato and then attempted to recapture the Crimea peninsula, territory Russia seized in 2014.
“Let’s imagine Ukraine is a Nato member and starts these military operations. Are we supposed to go to war with the Nato bloc? Has anyone given that any thought? Apparently not,” he said.
But the Russian leader indicated he was ready for more talks with the West. “I hope that in the end we will find a solution, although it will not be simple,” Putin said.
Tensions between Russia and the West have reached levels not seen since the end of the Cold War after Moscow massed more than 100,000 troops near its borders with Ukraine.
Western leaders have accused Moscow of preparing an invasion of its pro-Western neighbour and warned of severe consequences if it invades.
Russia insists it has no plans to attack and has instead put forward its own proposals it says would ease tensions.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken yesterday urged Russia to “immediately” de-escalate tensions and withdraw its troops in a call with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
Lavrov said Washington had agreed in the call to further discussions on Moscow’s demands.
“Let’s see how things go,” he said. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson jetted into Kyiv to hold talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as part of a Western diplomatic offensive.
“It is vital that Russia steps back and chooses a path of diplomacy, and I believe that is still possible,” Johnson said at a press conference with Zelensky after the talks, calling Russian forces a “clear and present danger” for Ukraine.
After his meeting with Putin in Moscow, Orban also suggested a solution was possible.
“The situation is serious, the differences are substantial,” Orban told the press conference with Putin. “But the existing differences in positions are bridgeable.”
Orban, one of Putin’s few allies among Nato and EU leaders, made the trip to Moscow in defiance of opposition parties who said it went against the country’s national interests.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi also urged “a de-escalation of tensions” in a call with Putin yesterday.
Putin said that French President Emmanuel Macron — who spoke to the Russian leader for the second time in four days on Monday — could come to Moscow for talks “in the near future”.
Western leaders have repeatedly warned of “severe consequences” if Russia does invade, including wide-ranging and damaging economic sanctions.