In a meeting with Russia’s Defence Ministry on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir asserted that growing tensions in Europe are purely the result of U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) actions, even as Russian troops have been amassing on the border with Ukraine for weeks.
BuzzFeed correspondent Christopher Miller tweeted a clip from Putin’s meeting with Russian military officials. “Putin: ‘What’s happening now, the tension developing in Europe, is their fault. At every step Russia was forced to somehow respond. At every step the situation grew increasingly worse … and degraded.’ He says Russia must now make a decision re: NATO, US.”
Putin’s remarks come as an estimated 90,000 have been mobilized near Ukraine for weeks. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier this month that the U.S. has evidence of a Russian plan to invade Ukraine in the near future.
According to a transcript of his Tuesday speech shared on the Kremlin website, Putin said, “I invited the U.S. President to start talks on the drafting of concrete agreements. Incidentally, during our conversation, he actually proposed appointing senior officials to oversee this sphere. It was in response to his proposal that we drafted our proposals on precluding the further eastward expansion of NATO and the deployment of offensive strike systems in the countries bordering on Russia. As you are aware, we have sent the drafts of relevant agreements to our American colleagues and the NATO leadership.”
Putin said Russia needs an agreement with strong legal enforceability, because “the United States easily pulls out of any international treaty that has ceased to be interesting to it for some reason.” Putin criticized the U.S. withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in particular.
Putin also said Russia has watched “five waves” of NATO’s eastward expansion since the 1990s, despite Russia being told that concerns about the alliance’s expansion are “groundless.”
Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic all joined NATO in 1999. Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia all joined the alliance in another expansion in 2004. Albania and Croatia joined NATO in 2009, Montenegro joined NATO in 2017 and North Macedonia joined in 2020.
Despite Putin’s claims that Russia stands blameless and is only reacting to NATO expansions, Russia did invade Georgia for two weeks in 2008 and annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in 2014. Russia also continues to support separatist groups in the Ukrainian territory of Donbas.
“What was the point of expanding NATO and withdrawing from the ABM Treaty?” Putin continued in his Tuesday remarks. “They are to blame for what is happening in Europe now, for the escalation of tensions there. Russia had to respond at every step, and the situation was continuously going from bad to worse. It was deteriorating all the time. And here we are today, in a situation when we are forced to resolve it: After all, we cannot allow the scenario I mentioned. Is anyone unable to grasp this? This should be clear.”
Putin said Russia’s proposal for reducing tensions in Europe calls on the U.S. and NATO to ban “the further eastward expansion of NATO and the deployment of offensive strike systems in the countries bordering on Russia.”
“Naturally, as I have already noted, if our Western colleagues continue their obviously aggressive line, we will take appropriate military-technical reciprocal measures and will have a tough response to their unfriendly steps,” Putin added.
Putin’s remarks come after President Joe Biden already warned Putin that the U.S. would take “strong economic and other measures” and provide additional defensive material to Ukraine if Russia invades.