Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused the West of « pulling » Ukraine into NATO, and risking « large-scale conflict » in the process.
Lavrov on Friday blamed NATO for creating agitation in Eastern Europe, where some 100,000 Russian troops backed by armored vehicles and artillery are deployed along Ukraine’s borders.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has refused to withdraw his forces, demanding « security guarantees » from NATO nations before doing so. The Kremlin wants NATO to guarantee that Ukraine will not be allowed to join the transatlantic alliance; a proposal dismissed by Brussels, Washington, D.C., and Kyiv.
Lavrov echoed his president’s suggestion that NATO aggression, rather than Russian militarism, was to blame for the crisis in Ukraine in an interview published on Friday morning.
« The policy towards pulling Kyiv into NATO with a prospect of strike missile systems appearing near our borders creates unacceptable security threats to Russia, provoking serious military risks for all the parties involved, up to a large-scale conflict in Europe, » the foreign minister told Bosnia and Herzegovina newspaper Oslobodjenje, as reported by Russia’s state-owned Tass news agency.
Putin and his top officials have tried to frame Russia’s military posture as defensive. NATO has long been considered an existential threat by Russian leaders, whether operating under the Soviet or federation flag. Ukraine, Putin has said, could act as a springboard for the alliance to invade Russia.
Ukraine first expressed interest in NATO membership in 2008. After the 2014 Maidan Revolution toppled the pro-Russian government in Kyiv, Russian troops annexed Crimea, and Moscow fomented separatist violence in the eastern Donbas region, successive Ukrainian governments have made NATO accession a top priority.
Ukraine is yet to receive a Membership Action Plan—effectively a roadmap for accession. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his top officials have repeatedly urged the alliance and the U.S. to speed up the process, arguing that Russian harassment will continue until Kyiv becomes a NATO member.
At a June summit in Brussels, NATO leaders reiterated the 2008 decision that Ukraine would eventually become a member of the alliance. After that summit, Zelenskyy noted: « The decision of this year’s summit lacks specific time frames for the next steps in our rapprochement with NATO, which we expected. »
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg met with Zelenskyy at alliance headquarters in Brussels earlier this month. After the meeting, Stoltenberg tweeted: « Moscow must return to diplomacy & respect Ukraine’s sovereignty & territorial integrity. NATO stands with Ukraine. All countries have the right to choose own security arrangements. »
At a press conference, Stoltenberg told Zelenskyy that NATO would provide Kyiv with « practical support. » He said: « Allies are training and advising your armed forces, participating in joint exercises, and providing equipment. NATO’s support for Ukraine is not a threat to Russia.
« Ukraine has the right to choose its own security arrangements. This is a fundamental principle of European security. And the decision on whether Ukraine can join NATO will be taken by Ukraine and 30 NATO Allies alone. »
On Thursday, Putin gave his annual Q&A press conference in Moscow, telling journalists it is the Western powers who should offer security guarantees, not the Kremlin. The president also refused to guarantee that his forces would not invade Ukraine again.
« Our actions will depend not on the negotiations, but on the unconditional security of Russia, today and in the future, » Putin said, referring to Russia-U.S.-NATO talks planned for early 2022.
« We have made it absolutely clear that NATO’s expansion to the east is unacceptable, » Putin said. « What’s not clear about it? We are not the ones that deploy missiles next to the United States. It’s the other way around, the United States brought their missiles next to our borders. »
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