Russian President Vladimir Putin said his aides are preparing a discussion document outlining the Kremlin’s views on what is needed for strategic stability and security on the continent of Europe, which will also further detail Moscow’s objections to Ukraine joining NATO.
The document will be shared with Washington within a week, Putin said.
In his first public remarks since a high-stakes, two-hour video conference with U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday, Putin once again accused NATO of being “openly confrontational against Russia” and “quite hostile to us,” but added, “We don’t want confrontation with anyone.”
Putin spoke during a press conference Wednesday in the Black Sea resort of Sochi after face-to-face talks with Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the first leader of a NATO country to see him since Tuesday’s video conference. Biden and Putin appeared to make little headway in their talks and traded accusations over a Russian military buildup near Ukraine, which U.S. and Ukrainian officials fear is a prelude to an invasion.
During their talks, Biden outlined to his Russian counterpart the punitive steps America and its NATO allies will take should Moscow decide to invade Ukraine. Western officials hope the threat of sanctions, which will target among other institutions Russian banks, will be enough to dissuade Putin from ordering any large-scale incursion into Ukraine. According to both U.S. and Russian officials, Putin demanded legal guarantees that NATO would not expand further east and allow Ukraine to join as a member.
Washington has warned European allies that the Kremlin may be “attempting to rehash” 2014, when it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and Russia-backed separatists seized a large part of the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, bordering Russia. Kremlin officials maintain that Russia is not getting ready to invade Ukraine and accuse Ukrainians of mobilizing military units along their shared border.
“If Russia further invades Ukraine, the United States and our European allies would respond with strong economic measures. We would provide additional defensive material to the Ukrainians above and beyond that which we are already providing,” Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, told reporters in a White House briefing following the virtual summit.
In separate readouts of the two-hour discussion, both Russia and the U.S. indicated that there would be further talks but were both vague about the exact subject of those talks and unclear when and how they would be conducted. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow on Wednesday just before Putin’s joint press conference with the Greek prime minister that Russia expects to begin a “discussion about strategic security on the continent” rapidly.
Peskov said the two leaders had agreed to appoint representatives and that Biden and Putin would speak after lower-level talks. But it was “impossible to say” when that would happen, he added. In the meantime, there are no signs that the Kremlin will withdraw an estimated 100,000 troops that are now within striking distance of Ukraine.
Western diplomats said that Putin’s remarks Wednesday suggest he is not abandoning talks and is leaving the door ajar for more discussions. Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said, “We appreciate the crucial diplomatic engagement of the U.S. in efforts to bring Russia back to the table of negotiations.” Biden is scheduled to speak Thursday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who has been pressing for Ukraine to join NATO.
In his remarks Wednesday, Putin said countries have the right to decide how they should defend themselves but “they should never undermine the national security of other countries.”
He added, “And we have said on many occasions to our partners that it is unacceptable for Russia to see NATO expand to the east.”
“When we talk about security, we should talk about global security and it should be comprehensive,” he said, adding, “But this is a long-term discussion. I think we will continue to talk about that in the future, and then we will express our views on that.”
Despite the absence of any substantial agreement between Biden and Putin, Dmitry Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center, a policy research organization, says the video conference “has been useful.” He tweeted, “Acknowledging each other’s security concerns is key.” He added, “War fears in West will not subside just yet, but jaw-jaw is better than war-war.”
Other observers are less optimistic, pointing out that Putin has long believed that Ukraine is essentially part of Russia and not a real country, repeating that view in an opinion article in July.
“It’s not about NATO. It’s not about security. It’s all about Putin’s desire to gather the lands and dominate Ukraine,” tweeted Alexander Vindman, the former director for European affairs on the U.S. National Security Council.
Former U.S. envoy to Russia Michael McFaul has voiced suspicions about the Kremlin’s intentions.
“Putin is not threatened by NATO expansion. Putin is threatened by Ukrainian democracy. Fellow Slavs — in Putin’s view, people of one nation — practicing democracy next door undermines Putin’s autocratic legitimacy inside Russia,” he tweeted.