Moscow, 23 December 2021 (dpa/MIA) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday accused NATO of massive expansion to the east with no regards for his country’s security interests.
There have already been “five waves of expansion” despite assurances that the Western military alliance would not endanger Russian security, Putin said at his annual press conference in Moscow.
He was particularly critical of Ukraine’s possible admission to NATO. Russian troops have built up along Ukraine’s border in recent weeks.
“Another NATO expansion eastward is unacceptable. What’s not to understand about it?” the Kremlin leader asked. “We want to consolidate our security.”
Asked if he could guarantee that Russia would not invade Ukraine, Putin said his country would act as its security interests demanded.
At the same time, he touted his proposals for binding security guarantees. “There can be no tricks here,” he said.
Russia handed over a draft agreement to NATO, the United States and its allies last week. In it, Moscow calls for an end to NATO’s eastward expansion, which it sees as threatening.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told dpa in an interview that he is was willing to talk with Russia to help ease tensions but that there would be no compromises on basic principles.
During the press conference, Putin also called for evidence of a crime more than a year after an attack on his political opponent Alexei Navalny, which was heavily criticized by the West.
He said no one had presented evidence of the “alleged poisoning” with the chemical agent Novichok. “Nothing. Zero,” Putin said.
His comments came despite several laboratories, including one run by the German Armed Forces, having provided evidence of the poisoning.
A spokeswoman for the jailed Navalny, Kira Yarmysh, took to Twitter to call Putin a “coward” and a “murderer.”
The Kremlin chief also defended the controversial crackdown on dissidents and so-called “foreign agents,” which have included non-governmental organizations and media groups.
He said Russia was too big to be influenced from the outside.
“You can only corrode it from within,” he added.
Putin did make one major concession in the press conference, calling for those responsible to be punished following the publication of numerous videos of torture in Russian detention centres.
“These are crimes that must be solved,” Putin said.
Even if the prisoners have committed or are suspected of committing a serious crime, authorities must “behave humanely towards them.”
The Kremlin said it had allowed up to 500 domestic and international journalists to attend Putin’s annual press conference. Last year’s event was more scaled back because of the pandemic.
Russia has recorded more than 1,000 coronavirus deaths every day for weeks, according to official government statistics.
Just under 48 per cent of people in Russia are double vaccinated.
Analysts say Russians are increasingly dissatisfied with Putin’s policies amid high prices, unemployment and low incomes.
He has led the country as president or prime minister for more than 20 years.