Russian President Vladimir Putin said Sunday he would ponder a slew of options if the West failed to meet his push for security guarantees precluding NATO’s expansion to Ukraine.
Putin’s security demands are the latest in a number of strongly-worded statements amid the tensions over a Russian troop build-up near Ukraine in recent weeks that has fuelled Western fears of a possible invasion of Russia’s western neighbour.
Earlier this month, Moscow submitted draft security documents demanding that NATO deny membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries and roll back its military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe.
Putin has urged the West to move quickly to meet the demands, warning that Moscow will have to take “adequate military-technical measures” if the West continues its “aggressive” course “on the threshold of our home.”
Asked to specify what such Moscow’s response could be, he said in comments aired by Russian state TV Sunday that “it could be diverse,” adding without elaboration that “it will depend on what proposals our military experts submit to me.”
The US and its allies have refused to offer Russia the kind of guarantee on Ukraine that Putin wants, citing NATO’s principle that membership is open to any qualifying country.
They agreed, however, to launch security talks with Russia next month to discuss its concerns.
Putin said the talks with the US will be held in Geneva. In parallel, negotiations are also set to be held between Russia and NATO, and broader discussions are expected under the aegis of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
In remarks broadcast Sunday, Putin said that Russia submitted the demands in the hope of a constructive answer from the West.
“We didn’t do it just to see it blocked (…) but for the purpose of reaching a negotiated diplomatic result that would be fixed in legally binding documents,” Putin said.
He reaffirmed that NATO membership for Ukraine or the deployment of alliance weapons there is a red line for Moscow that it wouldn’t allow the West to cross.
“We have nowhere to retreat,” he said, adding that NATO could deploy missiles in Ukraine that would take just four or five minutes to reach Moscow.
“They have pushed us to a line that we can’t cross. They have taken it to the point where we simply must tell them; ‘Stop!’”
He voiced concern that the US and its allies could try to drag out the security talks and use them as a cover to pursue a military build-up near Russia.
He noted that Russia published its security demands to make them known to the public and raise the pressure on the US and its allies to negotiate a security deal.
“We have just one goal — to reach agreements that would ensure the security of Russia and its citizens now and in a long-term perspective,” he said.
US president Joe Biden warned Putin in a video call earlier this month that Russia will face “severe consequences” if it attacks Ukraine.
Russia has denied any intention of launching an invasion and, in its turn, accused Ukraine of hatching plans to try to reclaim control of the territories held by Moscow-backed rebels by force. Ukraine has rejected the claim.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and shortly after threw its support behind a separatist rebellion in the country’s east.
Over more than seven years, the fighting has killed over 14,000 people and devastated Ukraine’s industrial heartland, known as Donbas.