NATO is to blame for everything, says Vladimir Putin. Of promising not to expand into Moscow and “cheat”, of sowing “anti-Russia” sentiments and “brainwashing the population” of Ukraine. The Russian president on Thursday accused the West of inciting tensions between the two countries and of working so that Russia “collapses from within.” At his marathon annual press conference, Putin urged the West to “immediately” accept Moscow’s demands, which requires NATO guarantees that it will not admit members of the former USSR (such as Ukraine and Georgia) and will halt their military deployments. In a tone less fierce than that exhibited these days, the veteran president defined as “positive” that the United States has agreed to talk about its proposals to stop the crisis unleashed by the concentration of Russian troops along the borders with Ukraine.
Meetings with representatives of the US administration will begin in January in Geneva, said Putin, who has warned that he hopes those talks will translate into quick results. This week, the Kremlin chief had said that he is ready to take “military technical measures” if his security requests are not met. “The ball is now in its turf,” Putin remarked in Moscow, on a stage carefully designed for his traditional conference, turned into a colorful spectacle, widely broadcast on television and the Internet throughout the country and in which the president, from 69 years old, takes the opportunity to show his resistance and closeness by answering dozens of questions of the most varied: from the possibility of a new invasion of Ukraine to a bucolic lawsuit initiated in Saint Petersburg against the “grandfather of cold” (the Russian Santa Claus ) for not fulfilling wishes.
With all eyes pending on his answers, Putin has chosen this Thursday to focus on issues of internal politics, social services, rising inflation, the coronavirus crisis and has stressed that it is necessary to “turn the page” in the case of the poisoning of the opposition leader Alexei Navalni – today, a prisoner – behind whom the West sees the hand of the Kremlin. Although Putin has also taken advantage of this forum to nail his speech on the supposed threats that Russians and Russian-speakers face in Ukraine and to return to his historical demands on the neighboring country, which date back to the collapse of the USSR three decades ago and which are for him an existential question.
The president blamed the architecture of the Soviet Union designed by Vladimir Lenin – the communist revolutionary leader and the first leader of the USSR, in 1922 – for the current crisis and assured that “historical territories” that are Ukraine today should be considered part of Russia. “[La OTAN] he is creating an anti-Russia in this territory, with the constant shipment of modern weapons, brainwashing the population, “Putin said. “Imagine the perspective of Russia from now on, always looking down on what is happening there,” he stressed.
On these foundations, and after Kiev turned to the west and overthrew the allied president of Moscow, Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014 with a referendum considered illegal by the international community – in Russia, the media of the Kremlin orbit call to annexation “the return home” -. Shortly thereafter, he gave military and political support to separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, who have been fighting since then in the Donbas against the Ukrainian army in a war that will be eight years old and which has already claimed some 14,000 lives, according to estimates. of the United Nations. Russia has granted more than a million passports in those two regions, according to official data.
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Now, the concentration of troops along the borders of Ukraine (which is not a member of the Atlantic Alliance although it aspires to be) and Putin’s increasingly warmongering rhetoric have made Western intelligence fear again that the Kremlin is preparing another invasion. Given the alerts, Putin assured that the West’s concern about the Russian threat may actually be the prelude to an attempt by Kiev, aligned with NATO, to launch an offensive in the Donbas. “Now they tell us’ war, war, war,” Putin said. “The impression is that they are planning a military operation and they warn us not to get involved, not to interfere, not to defend these people under threat of [sufrir] sanctions ”, he stressed.
The Ukrainian government has denied that it is preparing an operation to regain control of the Donbas. “People on both sides of the demarcation line in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions deserve peace and quiet,” the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Despite welcoming the talks to de-escalate the tension, Putin – who has drawn his red line not only on Ukraine’s NATO membership but on the Atlantic Alliance’s cooperation with Kiev – clearly avoided ruling out armed intervention in the former Soviet republic. “It was the United States that arrived with its missiles at our house, at our doorstep,” said the president, who has accused NATO of “brazenly deceiving and defrauding” Russia in the past with “five waves of expansion. ”Since the Cold War, when he offered verbal promises in the 1990s that he would not expand to Eastern European countries. “How would the Americans react if missiles were placed on the border with Canada or Mexico?”
With the Geneva talks in the offing, Russia has continued to build troops along its borders with Ukraine, where it continues to carry weapons and logistics infrastructure, according to satellite and social media images. According to the Ukrainian Security and Defense Council, some 122,000 Russian soldiers are within 200 kilometers of its borders. Kiev – which, like NATO, has made it clear that only the country itself and the Atlantic Alliance can have a voice in its future membership – has shown moderate “optimism” about a de-escalation in the Donbas, where it was agreed this week resume ceasefire, the umpteenth despite the 2015 Minsk peace accords.
No responsibility for gas prices
Putin rejected that Russia is responsible for the escalation of gas prices. The president said Germany was reselling Russian gas to Poland and Ukraine rather than using it to ease tension in an already very hot market. “Gazprom is supplying everything agreed in the contracts,” he assured, denying that the company that has a monopoly on Russian gas pipelines is tightening the nuts on the EU. Gazprom, however, has not reserved additional capacity, and that has caused prices to rise. Gas has risen more than 70% in Europe in the last two weeks, with the arrival of the cold.
The EU and the United States have threatened Moscow with further retaliation if it attacks Ukraine, although some European countries are reluctant to impose very strict measures, such as those hinted at by Washington. The United States is considering restrictions on Russian oil and gas imports and even the exclusion of Russian banks from the Swift payment system. Italy recalled on Wednesday that the EU imports almost 40% of its gas from Russia and that it cannot give up that supply.
Russia has used the gas tap to show its strength and influence in Brussels. The threat of energy shortages in the middle of winter and with skyrocketing prices is hovering over the discussions. This week, after gas hit another all-time high when the Russian pipeline that brings gas to Germany changed direction to flow east, many looked back toward Moscow. But the Kremlin insists these pricing problems will ease when the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is approved. The project, halted pending final certification, will bring Russian gas to Germany by passing under the Baltic Sea and bypassing Ukraine and Poland.
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