Vladimir Putin Refuses to Rule Out Ukraine Invasion, Wants West Concessions 'Now'

Russian President Vladimir Putin has refused to rule out an invasion of Ukraine, stressing he will accept nothing less than "the unconditional security of Russia" in upcoming talks with the U.S. and NATO.

During his annual Q&A press conference on Thursday in Moscow, Putin appeared frustrated by a question from Sky News asking if he would rule out an invasion of Ukraine.

In a lengthy response, the Russian president framed his deployment of 100,000 troops along Ukraine's border as defensive and accused NATO members—particularly the U.S.—of instigating conflict.

"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 slated 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."

"We are not the ones who are threatening someone, we are not the ones who came to the border of the U.S. or the U.K.; they came to us." Putin continued. "And now they're saying, 'We will have Ukraine as well.'"

"You should come up with guarantees, right now—immediately," Putin said, addressing the U.S. and its NATO allies.

The Kremlin is demanding guarantees that Ukraine will not be allowed to join the NATO alliance. Kyiv first expressed interest in membership in 2008, and successive governments have made accession a key goal since Russia's annexation of Crimea and Moscow's support for the 2014 separatist uprising in Donbas.

The president condemned NATO for its eastward expansion since the end of the Cold War. Russia shares a border with five NATO nations—Norway, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia—four of whom have joined since the collapse of the USSR.

"They just cheated us," Putin said. "'Not a single inch to the east,' that's what we heard in the 1990s."

The president said NATO and the U.S., not Russia, are to blame for tensions in Eastern Europe. "Bases all around—this is true," he said.

"New weapon systems are also being deployed in the east, in the south, in the north and at sea and, all the more so, in the west. But encircling such a territory as ours is a difficult task. Although modern capabilities, perhaps, allow thinking about that."

Earlier this week, Putin threatened military action absent of adequate security guarantees. "In case of continuation of the rather aggressive line of our Western colleagues, we will respond with adequate military-technical measures, will react harshly to unfriendly steps," he warned.

Vladimir Putin at United Russia congress Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses to the delegates during the congress of the United Russia party, on December 4, 2021, in Moscow, Russia. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images