Vladimir Putin today claimed eastern Ukraine is Russian and demanded NATO give ‘security guarantees’ amid fears he is poised to invade the country – but played down talk of war and said he welcomed peace talks with the US.  

Putin, speaking during his annual end-of-year press conference, described Ukraine as ‘historical territories’ that fell outside of Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

He said Donbass, a Ukrainian region on the Russian border, ‘never thought of itself as anything other than part of Russia’ and that he was ‘forced to do something about it in 2014’. 

It was some of Putin’s strongest ever comments on the history of Ukraine and is an indication of just how far the Russian strongman may be willing to go – despite repeatedly downplaying the prospect of an invasion.    

Western governments have for weeks accused Putin of planning an invasion after tens of thousands of troops, tanks and artillery pieces appeared on Ukraine’s eastern border.  

The United States and Europe have warned Russia that it risks unprecedented sanctions should it launch a military attack on NATO ally Ukraine.  

Putin said he hoped strategic stability talks with the US, on the premise that ‘Nato won’t move any further east’, would start in Geneva, Switzerland, in the new year. 

He spoke just days after the Kremlin issued a list of demands to NATO, including that Ukraine never be allowed to join the alliance and that its forces be withdrawn from former Soviet states.  

Vladimir Putin today claimed eastern Ukraine is Russian amid fears he is poised to invade the country  during his annual end-of-year press conference

Vladimir Putin today claimed eastern Ukraine is Russian amid fears he is poised to invade the country  during his annual end-of-year press conference

Vladimir Putin today claimed eastern Ukraine is Russian amid fears he is poised to invade the country  during his annual end-of-year press conference

America has been warning for weeks that Putin appears to be readying tens of thousands of troops, tanks and artillery pieces to invade Ukraine, but the Kremlin has insisted it is merely a defence force - until now (pictured, Russian forces currently massed in border regions)

America has been warning for weeks that Putin appears to be readying tens of thousands of troops, tanks and artillery pieces to invade Ukraine, but the Kremlin has insisted it is merely a defence force - until now (pictured, Russian forces currently massed in border regions)

America has been warning for weeks that Putin appears to be readying tens of thousands of troops, tanks and artillery pieces to invade Ukraine, but the Kremlin has insisted it is merely a defence force – until now (pictured, Russian forces currently massed in border regions) 

Russian soldiers take part in drills at the Kadamoskiy firing range in the Rostov region, near the border with Ukraine, on Wednesday

Russian soldiers take part in drills at the Kadamoskiy firing range in the Rostov region, near the border with Ukraine, on Wednesday

Russian soldiers take part in drills at the Kadamoskiy firing range in the Rostov region, near the border with Ukraine, on Wednesday

Putin branded his actions in Ukraine as defending ethnic Russians caught on the wrong side of the border after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. 

He blamed Kyiv for passing a law recognising Russians in Ukraine as non ‘indigenous people’, effectively making them second class citizens.  

‘They are pushing Russians and the Russian-speaking population from their historical territory,’ he said.

He accused the West of warmongering in Ukraine by creating an ‘anti-Russia, constantly beefed up with modern weapons and brainwashing the population’, adding that US us ‘warning us not to get in the way, or there will sanctions’. 

‘Now they tell us, war, war war. It seems they are preparing another operation [in Donbass] and are warning us not to get in the way, or they’ll be sanctions,’ he said.  

He said Russia can’t keep living in constant anticipation of looming security threats posed by possible deployment of Western weapons in Ukraine.

And argued that Western weapons could encourage hawkish forces in Ukraine to attempt to regain control over Russia-backed separatist regions by force and even try to reclaim Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Russian paratroopers take part in training exercises near Moscow in footage released Tuesday amid fears they could be used to invade eastern Ukraine

Russian paratroopers take part in training exercises near Moscow in footage released Tuesday amid fears they could be used to invade eastern Ukraine

Russian paratroopers take part in training exercises near Moscow in footage released Tuesday amid fears they could be used to invade eastern Ukraine

Russian paratroopers take part in mid-winter training drill near Moscow this week

Russian paratroopers take part in mid-winter training drill near Moscow this week

Russian paratroopers take part in mid-winter training drill near Moscow this week

Putin has denied having plans to launch an attack but has described a NATO expansion and weapons deployment in Ukraine as a ‘red line.’ 

Senior Kremlin and defence officials have grown increasingly insistent that the West and NATO are trampling Moscow’s security red lines and encroaching dangerously close to Russia’s borders. 

He said the Ukraine ‘problem’ hinged on Russia needing security guarantees from the West and urged NATO to move quickly to provide reassurances.  

‘We want to ensure our security,’ Putin said. ‘We put it straight: there must be no further expansion of NATO eastward.’ 

Last week, Moscow submitted draft security documents demanding that NATO deny membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries and roll back the alliance’s military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe.

A key principle of the NATO alliance is that membership is open to any qualifying country. 

The US and its allies have said they will not give Russia the kind of guarantee on Ukraine that Putin wants but American officials are conferring with European allies in advance of the Geneva talks.   

The US and its allies have said they will not give Russia the kind of guarantee on Ukraine that Putin wants but American officials are conferring with European allies in advance of the Geneva talks

The US and its allies have said they will not give Russia the kind of guarantee on Ukraine that Putin wants but American officials are conferring with European allies in advance of the Geneva talks

The US and its allies have said they will not give Russia the kind of guarantee on Ukraine that Putin wants but American officials are conferring with European allies in advance of the Geneva talks

Putin said that Washington’s willingness to discuss Russia’s security proposals to curb NATO’s eastward expansion was ‘positive’. 

‘There must not be any eastward NATO expansion… The ball is in their court. They need to provide us with some answer,’ he said, but added: ‘Overall we see a positive reaction.’

‘US partners told us that they are ready to begin this discussion, these talks, at the very start of next year in Geneva,’ Putin said, adding that representatives from both sides have been appointed.

The growing tensions peaked this week when Putin vowed that Russia would take ‘appropriate retaliatory’ military steps in response to what he called the West’s ‘aggressive stance’.

In an address to defence officials, he announced that a new arsenal of hypersonic missiles that he has previously described as ‘invincible’ were nearing combat readiness.

But the Russian leader also suggested that any accords with Washington would be worthless since it ‘easily withdraws from all international treaties’.

Putin, in power for more than two decades, was a loyal servant of the USSR and a KGB agent during the Soviet Union.

He has described its collapse three decades ago as ‘the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century’.

Moscow in 2014 annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in the wake of a popular uprising that ousted a pro-Putin president and sparked a conflict with separatists who won Russia’s political backing. 

The fighting has killed over 14,000 people and devastated Ukraine’s industrial heartland, Donbas. 

The press conference coincided with a high-profile court case in Moscow where the esteemed rights group Memorial was on trial for violations of ‘foreign agent’ legislation.

This year has seen a historic clampdown on the opposition, with its most prominent leaders exiled or jailed, but the announcement of the case against the respected rights group was seen as a dramatic downturn.

In what appeared to be an ominous sign, Putin earlier this month said that Memorial had been advocating on behalf of ‘terrorist and extremist organisations’.

The case follows other key trials, including the jailing of Russia’s most prominent opposition figure Alexei Navalny and the closure of his anti-corruption and political organisations on extremism convictions.

That crackdown, as well as allegations of election meddling and Russia’s support for the Syrian regime, have resulted in a wave of US and European sanctions against Moscow. 

 

Source: dailymail

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