Russian President Vladimir Putin has criticized the United States, the European Union, and NATO over their stance on the situation in the territories controlled by Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine and other issues, but said his country is ready “for contacts and a dialogue.”
In a wide-ranging speech to Foreign Ministry officials in Moscow on November 18, Putin said that his talks with the U.S. President Joe Biden on June 16 had “eventually tapped some opportunities for a dialogue and for the gradual leveling and correction of relations.”
“Joint activities [with Washington] on strategic stability and information security have started,” Putin said, adding, though, that “on many issues our interests, estimations, position differ dramatically.”
The Russian president’s remarks come at a time of elevated tensions between Moscow and the West, particularly since Moscow’s 2014 forcible annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea and its support for separatist formations in parts of eastern Ukraine.
Western assessments that Moscow interfered in elections, used chemical weapons to carry out attacks against Kremlin critics in the United Kingdom, provided the anti-aircraft system that was used to shoot down a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, and has been involved in cyberattacks against NATO countries have also tested relations.
In his speech, Putin repeated charges that the Ukrainian government has refused to hold direct negotiations with Russia-backed separatists who have controlled parts of Ukraine’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, known jointly as the Donbas, since April 2014.
Moscow has accused Ukraine of violating the Minsk agreements meant to put an end to the conflict that has killed more than 13,200 people since April 2014.
Despite compelling evidence that Moscow has provided military, economic, and political support to the separatists, Russia claims it is not involved in the Ukraine war. Ukraine and NATO have claimed in recent weeks that Russia has been massing military forces near the border between the two countries.
“It must be taken into consideration that the Western partners are aggravating the situation [in the Donbas] by supplying Kyiv with modern lethal weapons and holding provocative military maneuvers in the Black Sea and other regions close to our borders,” Putin said, stressing that Moscow will “adequately” respond to what he described as NATO’s attempts to extend its military infrastructure to countries close to Russia.
Kyiv has accused Moscow of undermining the Minsk agreements by refusing to help Ukraine establish control over all its international borders.
Ukraine and the United States have held major military drills in the Black Sea in recent months. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on November 15 that such exercises in the Black Sea region are “defensive and transparent.”
In September, the Kremlin warned that if NATO expanded its military infrastructure in Ukraine, it would amount to overstepping a red line.
“We’re constantly voicing our concerns about this, talking about red lines, but we understand our partners — how shall I put it mildly –have a very superficial attitude to all our warnings and talk of red lines,” Putin said.
Putin also claimed that Western strategic bombers carrying “very serious weapons” were flying within 20 kilometers of Russia’s borders.
His comments came in the wake of numerous close encounters between Russian and NATO military aircraft in recent years.
Putin also said that opportunities for talks with the European Union are “withering” because of sanctions imposed on Russia over the Crimea annexation and its involvement in the Donbas conflict.