The U.S. and its NATO allies are building a "new Berlin Wall" by expanding the footprint of their military alliance eastward, said Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday as he railed against destabilizing and counterproductive behavior by western nations over the crisis in Ukraine that has contributed to his nation's economic troubles.
The remarks were made during a televised national press conference in which Putin opened himself up to questions from journalists and citizens in a marathon Q&A session that last more than three hours.
"We're not attacking anyone, we're not warmongers... The American bases are throughout the globe, and you want to say we are the aggressors?" —Russian President Vladimir PutinThough at times bizarre, given the open platform, many of the serious questions and most substantive answers came in relation to the growing economic crisis in the country and the ongoing turmoil surrounding Russia's relationship with Ukraine and how the situation in that former Soviet bloc nation is impacting Moscow's standing with the western nations, namely the U.S. and other NATO members.
Putin said that he believes President Petro Poroshenko is acting in good faith to end the crisis in eastern Ukraine, but said his counterpart is "not alone" in Kiev and that others are blocking efforts to see an agreement reached in the city of Minsk, Belarus earlier this year put into place.
"The next step should be following up the Minsk agreement—it is important that the Kiev authorities use all these agreements," he said."There are no other means except for peaceful settlement."
Amid efforts in recent days to stabilize a dramatic fall of Russia's national currency, the ruble, Putin was asked repeatedly what he was doing to address the situation and what his thoughts were on the impact of punitive economic sanctions that have been imposed by the U.S. and Europe.
Putin indicated the impact of western economic sanctions were obvious, and that renewed tensions between Europe, the U.S., and Russia are largely to blame on the recent expansion of NATO, which includes an active effort to use the new Kiev government in Ukraine as a lever for Western power. He characterized NATO's introduction of new military units to several Baltic states and increased military aid to Ukraine as akin to building a "new Berlin Wall."
As the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS reports:
NATO's expansion eastwards is like building a new Berlin Wall, Russian President Vladimir Putin told the press conference. The president recalled NATO's expansion eastwards, creation of missile defense.
Russia’s tough position on crisis situations should make it clear to counterparts that common security space is necessary, Putin said.
The main problem of the international relations today is creation of new dividing lines, Vladimir Putin said.
As for Russia's recent military activity, Putin admitted Russia has contributed to the tension in the world, but he said that Russia is only protecting itself. Putin reminded that the Russia after the fall of the USSR stopped their strategic aviation flights though the US continued theirs. Now, Russia has resumed such exercises, the president said.
As the New York Times reports:
Mr. Putin blamed "external factors," including Western sanctions and falling oil prices, for the collapse of the Russian currency, the ruble. But he played down the severity of the economic crisis, saying that it would last a maximum of two years before a return of growth.
"I believe that we are right," Mr. Putin said of the conflict in Ukraine [...] "And I believe that our Western partners are not right."
When pressed on Russia's role in contributing to the military tensions, Putin repeated that Russia will not be cowed by foreign threats, but said it has not been the aggressor in these latest events.
"We're not attacking anyone, we're not warmongers," Putin said. "The American bases are throughout the globe, and you want to say we are the aggressors?"
In addition, as CNN reports, Putin said the Pentagon's defense budget was "virtually 10 times more" than Russia's. "Are we extending the borders? Who is moving the borders of NATO forward -- the military infrastructure? Not us."
The Guardian newspaper provided live coverage of the event, including this summary:
- Vladimir Putin said that Russia’s economy would recover within two years. He did not identify concrete measures but referred to the world’s need for energy increasing again as the global economy recovered and diversification of the economy in the interim.
- He blamed “external factors” for problems with the economy and the ruble. Putin described sanctions against Russia as “illegitimate” and said that Saudi Arabia and the US “might” have conspired to lower oil prices to harm Russia (and Iran).
- The Russian president said that it was illogical to blame him for current frosty relations with the west. Referring to the number of US military bases around the world and its deployment of anti-ballistic missiles in Europe, he asked how Russia could possibly be seen as the aggressor. He also compared Nato expansion to the Berlin wall.
- He repeatedly said that he wanted a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine. Putin said it must be solved by political means in line with fundamental international principles, including the right of self-determination.
- Putin said it was “too early” to decide whether he would run for president in 2018.
And RT.com has provided a translated video of the full press conference: