Putin urges the West to respond swiftly to his demands on Ukraine crisis

Russian president Vladimir Poutine sought to turn the tide on the West at its annual end-of-year press conference Thursday, blaming the United States and its allies for Rising tensions over Ukraine and suggesting “the ball is in their court” to answer Moscow’s demands.

The Russian leader said it was up to the United States and NATO to quickly provide the security guarantees Moscow demanded last week, although it insisted it did not want a new armed conflict.

“The ball is in their court,” Putin told the more than 500 Russian and foreign journalists attending the marathon event. “They must answer us with something.”

Russia massaged a few 100,000 soldiers along the Ukrainian border, raising fears of an invasion as early as next month, but has repeatedly denied any intention of attacking his neighbor.

Putin was optimistic about the response to security demands made by the Kremlin last week, which called for NATO to stop its eastward expansion as well as for legally binding security guarantees that certain offensive weapons will not be deployed in countries neighboring Russia.

The Russian leader said Washington appears ready to begin negotiations around its proposals early next year in Geneva, although the United States and its allies are unlikely to give the guarantees it wants.

Moscow wants unconditional guarantees of its security now and in the future, and will not accept NATO’s expansion eastward to include Ukraine, he said.

Offering an aggressively Russian take on history to underpin these security concerns, Putin said Ukraine was “created” by Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union. He also accused NATO of having “fooled” Russia with five waves of expansion since the Cold War and despised the United States for moving closer to Russia’s “threshold”, adding that it appears sometimes Moscow and the West live in “different worlds”.

“You demand guarantees from me,” Putin said. “You should give guarantees. And right now. “

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier this week that Washington was working with its European allies to deal diplomatically with what he called “Russian aggression”, but said President Joe Biden was opposed the type of guarantees that Putin is looking for.

Biden warned Putin in a virtual call earlier this month that Russia would face “Serious consequences” if he attacks Ukraine.

Image: (Andriy Dubchak / AP)

Putin has hosted the marathon event, where he answers questions on a range of topics, every year since he became president in 2001. Since 2004, each press conference has lasted at least three hours, the longest having took place last year at 4.5 hours. .

This year’s event comes amid growing concerns about military reinforcement, but also as the Kremlin faces internal challenges in the form of a soaring Covid-19 numbers, economic recovery and a crackdown on dissent that has drawn international criticism.

The annual press conference is a pillar in building Putin’s national image and a sort of staple of the Russian holiday season, designed to present the 69-year-old president as a transparent and caring leader.

Before Putin spoke to the media on Thursday, Russia’s Covid death toll surpassed 600,000, according to a Reuters tally. The country has struggled to contain cases and has the third highest death rate in the world, with low vaccination rates hampering its ability to emerge from the pandemic.

Last year, the country also faced the biggest repression of the free press and political dissensiont since soviet era, with a growing number of opposition politicians and media “foreign agent” designations, and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny detained on what his supporters say are false accusations.

Putin on Thursday reiterated Russia’s position that there is no evidence of Kremlin criticism poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok last year, despite findings from Western intelligence agencies and the global chemical weapons watchdog.

Christi C. Elwood