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President Vladimir Putin, who has threatened a military response to counter Nato expansion toward Russia’s border. Picture: BLOOMBERG
President Vladimir Putin, who has threatened a military response to counter Nato expansion toward Russia’s border. Picture: BLOOMBERG

President Vladimir Putin threatened a military response to counter Nato expansion towards Russia’s border, while insisting he wasn’t issuing an ultimatum as he heaped blame on the US for rising tensions in Europe.

The US and its allies “must understand that we have nowhere to retreat further” and Russia can’t allow them to deploy missiles in Ukraine that would be a few minutes’ strike distance from Moscow, Putin told senior officers on Tuesday at the Russian defence ministry. “This is at the doorstep of our home.” 

Russia will “take adequate military-technical response measures and react harshly to unfriendly steps” by Nato, Putin said, without elaborating on a phrase that could refer to weapons deployments. “Armed conflict and bloodshed are absolutely not our choice,” he said. “We want to resolve the question by political and diplomatic means.” 

Putin hit out after Russia demanded last week that Nato withdraw forces to the positions they held in 1997, before the alliance expanded to include former Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe, as part of proposed new security treaties. The US and Europe accuse Russia of a huge build-up of troops near Ukraine in preparation for a possible invasion as early as next month, something Russia denies. 

Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday the alliance wants “meaningful dialogue” with Moscow and he plans to call a Nato-Russia council meeting as soon as possible in the New Year. Nato suspended practical co-operation through the council after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, though the two sides have met at ambassadorial level often.

Serious challenge

“A dialogue with Russia needs to be based on the core principles of European security and to address Nato’s concerns about Russia’s actions,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels. “And it needs to take place in consultation with Nato’s European partners, including with Ukraine.”

If US and Nato missiles appear in Ukraine “the flight time to Moscow will be reduced to 7-10 minutes, and if hypersonic weapons are deployed — to within five minutes,” Putin said. “This is a serious challenge for us, a challenge for our security.”

Nato says it is a defensive body and its deployments in member states have come in response to threats from Russia. While the alliance has said the door is open to Ukraine for eventual membership, there is little prospect of that happening soon. There are no proposals from the US or Nato to place missiles in Ukraine or deploy troops there.

Russia sees potential risks to its territory and Crimea if the US put hypersonic missiles in Ukraine then allowed “extremists” there to carry out attacks, Putin said. “Do they think we don’t see these threats?” he said.

While there are “signals” the US is ready to discuss Russia’s proposals, there is also a risk that Washington will try to bog down negotiations, Putin said.

Russia can’t trust security guarantees offered by the US because Washington easily walks away from its commitments, the president said. Still, “clearly stated” written guarantees are better than oral ones, he said.

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com


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