Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly addressed tensions surrounding Ukraine for the first time since December as he accused the U.S. of using Kyiv as a “tool” to pull Russia into an armed conflict over its neighboring country.
Putin said the U.S. and its allies have “ignored” Moscow’s top security demands while speaking at a joint news conference following a meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Moscow on Feb. 1.
Russian president said that the West had not satisfied his demand for an uncontested sphere of influence in eastern Europe but said he was ready to continue dialogue on Ukraine.
Russia has amassed nearly 130,000 troops on the Ukrainian border, according to Ukraine's envoy to the UN Sergiy Kyslytsya. Russian troops and combat vehicles have also been moving to Ukraine’s neighbor Belarus for joint military drills, stirring up Western fears that Moscow could be planning an all-out invasion of Ukraine.
The February drills will take place near Ukraine and NATO members Poland and Lithuania.
As tensions rise on the border, Putin said the Kremlin is studying the U.S. and NATO’s replies to Russia’s security demands that they received last week.
Putin’s comment comes after Russia made a list of security demands in December, which included its main demand – to halt any further eastward expansion of NATO and ban Ukraine from ever joining the alliance.
The U.S. and its allies have dismissed those demands as “non-starters,” urging Moscow to pull back its troops from Ukraine’s border. U.S. President Joe Biden, in a Jan. 31 White House speech, threatened Russia with “swift and severe consequences” if it chooses to further invade Ukraine.
The contents of the Western responses were not released, but U.S. and NATO leaders made it clear that they did not make any concessions on core Russian demands. The officials are also working out ways to display a united front over ways to punish Russia in the event of a full-scale military action.
Putin said that Moscow is still working on its “main answer” to the U.S. letter.
Putin claimed that the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO poses "a major threat" to both his country and world peace. He argued that Western-allied Ukraine strengthened with NATO weapons could potentially launch a war against Russia to recapture Russian-occupied Crimea, which the Kremlin illegally annexed in 2014.
Putin said that it could lead to war between Russia and NATO.
None such plans were ever discussed by Ukraine, with President Volodymyr Zelensky saying on multiple occasions that Ukraine is set to find a diplomatic solution to end Russian ongoing occupation of Crimea and eastern Donbas.
Meanwhile, leaders from Britain, France, the Netherlands, Poland and Turkey have visited Ukraine or are planning to visit the country this week. Western leaders have been engaged in a flurry of diplomatic efforts to avert further Russian invasion of Ukraine.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a phone call with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Feb. 1, but he said afterward that his Russian counterpart did not give an indication to ratchet down tensions on the Ukrainian border.
A day prior, U.S. and Russia traded accusations during the UN Security Council meeting held in New York. The meeting on threats to international peace and security turned into a sharp confrontation with little result, as Russia actively denied responsibility for its war against Ukraine.