Putin Wants NATO Not to Deploy Weapons Near Russian Territory, Resist Eastern Expansion

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Moscow wants to work out agreements with the U.S. and its allies that would bar NATO from expanding eastward and deploying weapons near Russian territory, the Associated Press reported. The leader announced his intention as concerns continued to mount about a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine's border and a potential invasion into the neighboring nation.

Meanwhile, Russian diplomats have voiced fears about Ukrainian military growth near a separatist conflict zone, which some countries allege has been aided by Russia, in eastern Ukraine, the AP reported. While speaking at a Kremlin ceremony where he was presented with credentials from foreign ambassadors, Putin said that Russia would look to obtain "reliable and long-term security guarantees" regarding NATO's movements.

He cited threats "mounting on our western border" with NATO stationing its military infrastructure nearer to Russia. He voiced openness to talking with the West about the issue, but said that Moscow would require "legal guarantees" rather than just verbal promises, according to the AP.

"We aren't demanding any special conditions for ourselves and realize that any agreements must take interests of Russia and all Euro-Atlantic countries into account," Putin said. "A calm and stable situation must be ensured for all and is needed for all without exclusion."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Putin Issues Warning to NATO
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Moscow wants to work out agreements with the U.S. and its allies that would bar NATO from expanding eastward and deploying weapons near Russian territory. Putin speaks during a ceremony to receive credentials from foreign ambassadors in Kremlin, in Moscow, Russia on December 1. Grigory Sysoev/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Putin's statement came a day after he sternly warned NATO against deploying its troops and weapons to Ukraine, saying it represented a red line for Russia and would trigger a strong response.

Tensions have been soaring in recent weeks about a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine, which worried Ukrainian and Western officials, who saw it as a possible sign of Moscow's intention to invade its former Soviet neighbor. NATO foreign ministers warned Russia on Tuesday that any attempt to further destabilize Ukraine would be a costly mistake.

The Kremlin insists it has no such intention and has accused Ukraine and its Western backers of making the claims to cover up their own allegedly aggressive designs.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the concentration of Ukrainian troops looks "alarming," adding that he was going to raise the issue during a ministerial meeting in Stockholm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Thursday. He again assailed Ukraine for failing to meet its obligations under a 2015 peace deal for the region that was brokered by France and Germany and signed in Minsk, Belarus.

"Kyiv is becoming increasingly insolent in its aggressiveness toward the Minsk agreements, the Russian Federation, and in its attempts to provoke the West to support its military ambitions," Lavrov said in remarks in the upper house of Russia's parliament.

The U.S. State Department and Russia's Foreign Ministry said Blinken and Lavrov will meet Thursday on the sidelines of the OSCE meeting. A State Department official said Blinken will meet first with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Ukraine has amassed about 125,000 troops—about half of the size of its military—near the conflict zone. She also pointed at an increasing number of violations of a cease-fire in the east.

Amid the tensions, Moscow on Wednesday launched drills in southwestern Russia involving over 10,000 troops. A smaller exercise also began in Russia's westernmost region of Kaliningrad on the Baltic, involving 1,000 personnel from armored units.

Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 after the country's Kremlin-friendly president was driven from power by mass protests. Moscow also threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland, known as the Donbas. More than 14,000 people have died in the fighting.

Ukraine and the West accused Russia of sending its troops and weapons to back the rebels. Moscow denied that, charging that Russians who joined the separatists were volunteers.

In Wednesday's address to parliament, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for negotiations with Russia to end the conflict in the east.

"We must tell the truth—we wouldn't be able to stop the war without direct talks with Russia," Zelenskyy said. "We aren't afraid of a direct dialogue."

The Kremlin responded by reaffirming its long-held stance that Russia isn't a party to the conflict, describing the fighting in the east as a civil war.

"The war in Donbas is Ukraine's internal business," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. "We know about the attempts to cast Russia as a party to the conflict, but it's not so. It's only possible to end the war in Donbas through talks between Ukrainians."

Peskov said the Ukrainian troop concentration in Donbas could herald an attempt by Kyiv to reclaim control of the rebel-held territory.

"It makes us worry that inclinations to solve the Donbas problem by force could prevail," he said. "It's a very dangerous adventurism."

Russia-Ukraine Conflict
Concerns have been mounting about a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine’s border and a potential invasion into the neighboring nation. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gestures as he addresses lawmakers in Kyiv, Ukraine on December 1. Efrem Lukatsky/AP Photo