A Kremlin spokesperson pushed back Sunday on the idea of there being Russian troops in Donbas and “on Ukrainian soil” on Sunday, but claimed that troops near the Ukrainian borders were necessary amid a “very tense situation and very unfriendly environment” with NATO.
The remarks from Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson, came amid mounting concerns that Russia is about to invade Ukraine. POLITICO reported last week that U.S. officials said Russia might launch an operation to provide a pretext for such an invasion, and Putin has generated recent concern by placing Russian troops on the border with Ukraine.
Peskov, appearing on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS,“ said, “I’m a spokesperson to Kremlin, and I officially can tell you that there are no Russian troops on Donbas and on Ukrainian soil,” an assertion that Zakaria pushed back on, noting that observers have said Russian troops are out of uniform in the Ukrainian region.
Ever since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and got involved in conflict in the region of Donbas, fears of a ramped-up conflict have ensued. At talks in Geneva this month, Russia repeatedly demanded a guarantee that Ukraine never join NATO, a position that Peskov seemed to hold firm on Sunday as he called NATO a “weapon of confrontation.”
The spokesperson insisted that the Kremlin is willing to compromise and negotiate with the U.S. and NATO on the crisis with Ukraine, saying: “We have to find out a combination to solve this problem, taking into account concerns of Russia.” But he also previewed discontent with these negotiations on the part of the Kremlin, adding that “in general, in principle, we can now say that we are staying on different tracks, on totally different tracks, and this is not good, and this is disturbing.”
Last week, NATO’s top military official, Adm. Rob Bauer, told reporters that talks with Russia “have not led to any large changes in the intelligence picture that we see,” indicating that the crisis with Ukraine would continue. Ukraine on Sunday blamed Russia for cyberattacks on government websites.
Asked by Zakaria about the timeline for Russia taking action, Peskov said, “We’re not speaking about tomorrow, we’re not speaking about hours, but what was meant by our president is that we don’t want to see a process for the sake of the process. So, we don’t want to see a monthlong or yearlong negotiations discussing our disagreements. We want to feel, for the beginning, the readiness to take into account our concerns. Right now, unfortunately, we fail to do that.”
But Peskov also pushed back on the concept of a timeline for action, claiming Russia would be ready to take counteractions — but adding, notably, that the Kremlin is “not going to say that we will not deploy any offensive weapons on Ukraine’s territory.”
Those remarks are in line with Russia’s ongoing messaging that denies creating military issues, instead insisting that it is simply acting in response to provocations by others. Peskov at multiple times during the interview tried to paint the Kremlin as a victim of NATO, which he claimed to be closing in on Russian borders with a “very tense situation and very unfriendly environment created by various training of NATO jet fighters, NATO spy planes, NATO’s military infrastructure.”