By Layla Guest
Published:December 21, 2021
In a speech to his country’s most senior military officers on Tuesday, Putin said he no longer viewed the West as a dependable partner. Russia has been seeking written assurances about the presence of US troops and hardware near its borders, he said, but even those assurances could not be depended on.
“We need long-term legally binding guarantees. But you and I know them well. And that is something that cannot be trusted,” Putin went on, noting that the US “easily withdraws from international treaties that it becomes uninterested in,” apparently referencing Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from the landmark Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002. The accord, inked between the USSR and US in 1972, intended to limit both sides’ missile defense capabilities.
“You and I both know very well: under various pretexts, including the purpose of ensuring their own security, that they act thousands of kilometers away from their national territory,” he said. “When international law and the UN Charter interfere, they declare it all obsolete and unnecessary.”
The president added that he considered NATO’s further expansion into Eastern Europe a consequence of the “euphoria” that stemmed from the West’s apparent victory in the Cold War and the result of a misanalysis. He also expressed his confusion at the US-led military bloc’s encroachment on his country’s borders despite the friendly relations between Moscow and the West at that time.
Putin stressed that Russia was ready to take both military and technical measures as a response to what it perceived as the unfriendly steps taken by Washington, insisting that it was Moscow’s right to do so.
Putin’s remarks come shortly after Moscow issued two documents, one addressed to NATO and the other to US officials, requesting a range of guarantees it said were aimed at boosting the security of all parties.
The proposals focus on the movement of military personnel and hardware, and include the requirement that Ukraine’s long-held requests to become a member of the bloc would not be granted. A separate document calls for current NATO members to desist from any military activity on Kiev’s territory, as well as in Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus, and Central Asia.
In the draft agreement sent to Washington, Moscow requested that officials make a firm commitment to ruling out the enlargement of the bloc to include any other former Soviet republics. Speaking via video link earlier in December, Putin told his US counterpart, President Joe Biden, that Russia was “seriously interested” in getting “reliable and firm legal guarantees” that would prohibit NATO’s expansion further eastwards, as well as the deployment of “offensive-strike weapons systems” nearby.
Putin has previously insisted that the last Soviet premier, Mikhail Gorbachev, was given guarantees by Western leaders that the bloc would not expand into the space left after the collapse of the USSR. In 2017, a tranche of documents was declassified, and subsequently widely interpreted as showing that American, British, and German officials gave verbal assurances to the Kremlin in the 1990s that NATO would not push into Eastern European nations, before then admitting as members nations such as Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.