Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on Sunday that if the West fails to accept his demands for security assurances that would prevent NATO’s expansion into Ukraine, he would consider a variety of measures.
Moscow presented draft security documents earlier this month requesting that NATO refuse Ukraine and other former Soviet republics membership and reduce military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe.
The Kremlin made its security demand amid rising tensions over Russia’s recent army buildup in Ukraine, which has fanned Western concerns of an invasion. In a video conference with Putin earlier this month, US President Joe Biden warned that if Russia attacked Ukraine, it will suffer “serious repercussions.”
Russia has rejected any intention of launching an invasion, while Ukraine has accused Russia of devising plans to use force to recover territory controlled by Moscow-backed rebels. The allegation has been denied by Ukraine.
Putin has encouraged the West to respond promptly to his requests, warning that if the West continues on its “aggressive” path “on the threshold of our land,” Moscow would be forced to take “appropriate military-technical measures.”
When asked to elaborate on such a reaction, Putin stated on Russian state television on Sunday that “it might be different,” adding that “it would depend on what ideas our military specialists present to me.”
The US and its partners have refused to provide Putin with the type of assurance on Ukraine that he seeks, citing NATO’s concept that membership is available to any country that meets certain criteria. They did agree, though, to meet with Russia next month to discuss its security concerns.
Putin stated that the US-Russia discussions will take place in Geneva. Parallel consultations between Russia and NATO are planned, as well as larger discussions under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Putin said in remarks televised on Sunday that Russia made the demands in the hopes of receiving a positive response from the West.
“We didn’t do it only to see it stopped,” Putin explained, “but to get a negotiated diplomatic conclusion that would be set in legally binding agreements.”
He reiterated that NATO membership for Ukraine, as well as the deployment of alliance weaponry there, are red lines that Moscow would not allow the West to cross.
“We have no place to go,” he added, adding that NATO might install missiles in Ukraine that would reach Moscow in four or five minutes. “They’ve pushed us to a point where we can’t go any more.” They’ve gotten to the point where we just have to tell them, ‘Stop!'”
He expressed fear that the United States and its allies would try to drag out the security discussions in order to justify a military buildup near Russia.
He pointed out that Russia made its security demands public in order to put pressure on the US and its partners to reach a security agreement.
In statements televised on Sunday, Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated that NATO’s extension to Ukraine or other ex-Soviet countries is “a question of life or death for us.”
The test-firing of Russia’s Zircon hypersonic missiles on Friday, he said, will help make Russia’s demand for security assurances “more believable.”
The launches on Friday were the latest in a series of tests of Zircon, which Putin claims can travel at nine times the speed of sound over a distance of over 1,000 kilometers (620 miles). They were the first Zircon missiles to be fired in a volley, signifying the end of testing before the new missile is deployed to the Russian military next year to arm cruisers, frigates, and submarines.
On Sunday, Peskov again referred to Putin’s prior warning that a Ukrainian attack on rebel-held territory would have “severe consequences” for Ukraine’s statehood, saying, “They know it well in Kyiv and they know it well in Washington.”
In 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and soon after backed a separatist revolt in the country’s east. Over 14,000 people have been murdered in the conflict, which has ravaged Ukraine’s industrial heartland, known as the Donbas.