Putin complains about NATO as US deploys more troops to Europe | Ukraine-Russia crisis

Russian President Vladimir Putin says the US and NATO have failed to meet Moscow’s key security demands in their standoff over Ukraine, as US President Joe Biden announces additional troop deployment in Eastern Europe.

Putin offered his first reaction to U.S. and NATO responses to Russia’s demands in a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron after weeks of personal public silence on the simmering crisis.

The Kremlin quoted Putin as telling Macron he would study the responses provided by Washington and NATO this week before deciding on further action.

“Attention has been drawn to the fact that the responses of the United States and NATO did not take into account Russia’s main concerns,” the Kremlin said of Putin’s conversation with Macron.

He listed such concerns as avoiding NATO expansion, not deploying offensive weapons near Russia’s borders, and returning NATO’s “military capabilities and infrastructure” to what they were before the former Warsaw Pact states in Eastern Europe do not join the alliance. He is also seeking guarantees that Ukraine will be permanently excluded from NATO membership.

“The key question has been ignored – how the United States and its allies intend to follow the principle of security integrity…that no one should enhance their security at the expense of the security of another country” , the Kremlin said.

A French presidential official said Putin had stressed he did not want the situation to escalate, echoing conciliatory comments by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said Moscow did not want war.

The comments come after US President Joe Biden warned on Thursday that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could be imminent.

On Friday, Biden announced he would soon send a small number of US troops – “not too many” – to bolster NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe as tensions remain high.

The United States already has tens of thousands of troops stationed in most Western European countries.

(Al Jazeera)

“We don’t need to panic”

For his part, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy criticized the “feeling abroad” that the war had already begun, suggesting that a Russian attack is not imminent although an economically damaging war is possible.

In a phone call a day earlier, Biden had warned Zelenskyy of a “distinct possibility” that Russia could take military action against Ukraine.

“We don’t need this panic,” Zelenskyy told a press conference in Kyiv.

“I don’t consider the situation any more tense than before. There is a feeling abroad that there is war here. This is not the case.”

He also called on Russia to prove its claims that it has no intention of invading Ukraine.

“They say it openly, in different media, from different officials — so they can at least show some steps to prove it,” Zelenskyy said.

Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett, reporting from Washington, DC, said it was clear Zelenskyy wanted to “reaffirm himself in a conversation that seems to be taking on a life of its own.”

“It looks like he’s trying to set the record straight,” she added. “What we’re hearing from the United States and President Joe Biden is that the threat is imminent, but the Ukrainian president thinks it may not be as imminent as Washington characterizes him.”

Volodymyr Zelenskiy, President of Ukraine at a press conferenceVolodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, pauses during a press conference following a four-party summit on Ukraine at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, December 9, 2019 [File: Bloomberg]

Energy supply

Lavrov said Moscow does not want a war but will not allow Russian interests “to be grossly trampled on and ignored”.

“If it depends on Russia, then there will be no war. We don’t want wars,” he told Russian radio stations.

Lavrov is expected to meet again with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the coming weeks. Their last meeting in Geneva on January 21 produced no breakthrough.

He said, without giving details, that the American counter-proposals were better than those of NATO.

A senior US administration official said Washington welcomed Lavrov’s comment that Russia did not want war, adding “we need to see it backed up by quick action.”

The United States and the European Union have warned Russia that it will face economic sanctions if it attacks Ukraine.

These would build on sanctions imposed on Russia since it annexed Crimea and backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014, although there are divisions between Western countries over how to react, because Europe depends on Russia for its energy supply.

Biden and Ursula von der Leyen, who lead the European Commission – the executive branch of the EU – said they had agreed to cooperate to ensure Europe’s energy security, but gave no details.

The EU currently depends on Russia for around a third of its gas supplies and there are fears the Kremlin is using its energy dominance as leverage.

EU officials have repeatedly called for bloc unity over Ukraine, with some fearing that Germany – preoccupied with energy supplies – has not taken a tougher stance.

Talking about the prospect of war

Late Friday, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin warned Russia that “there is still time and space for diplomacy.”

“There is no reason for this situation to escalate into conflict,” he said.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley also urged Russia to “stand down and seek a solution through diplomacy.”

“Armed force should always be the last resort. Here, success comes through dialogue,” he said.

Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher said that while it is clear that the United States denounces the prospect of wanting a war, it does not rule out the possibility either.

“The United States continues to pound the drum of ‘yes, there can be a diplomatic response to this’ – even going so far as to say there is a possibility of a summit between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin” , he said, speaking from Washington, DC. “But they are also very clear in warning the Russians that they will react if NATO asks to have air forces there.”

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