Vladimir Putin on Tuesday said he is ready to engage in negotiations with the US and NATO over limiting missile deployments in Europe — but the Russian leader’s claims that he is pulling back some troops along Ukraine’s borders were met with skepticism by Western leaders.
Putin, speaking at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, characterized the deterrence of Russia “by force as a direct and immediate threat to national security” and said the US and the alliance had not satisfied the security guarantees that he demanded.
The US and NATO responded in writing last month to his concerns.
“As the minister of foreign affairs of the Russian Federation told me yesterday, the provided responses contain a number of proposals that we are not just open to discussing, but in fact we have proposed them to our partners in previous years: proposals on European security issues, on certain weaponry issues … and on military transparency,” Putin said.
“We are ready to continue this joint work further. We are also ready to follow the negotiation track but all issues must be considered as a whole, without being separated from the main Russian proposals,” he said.
The Russian leader has massed more than 130,000 troops and heavy equipment on the country’s western border with Ukraine, as well as participating in joint military drills in Belarus, Ukraine’s northern neighbor, and conducting naval maneuvers in the Black Sea.
Putin has demanded that the US and its allies bar Ukraine from joining NATO, that Western forces be rolled back from Eastern Europe and that missile systems not be deployed in Ukraine.
Western officials immediately rejected the NATO proposal but expressed willingness to discuss other security concerns.
Scholz, who met on Monday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, called Putin’s offer to talk a “good sign.”
“Likewise, NATO, the EU, and we do not agree with the demands of Russia, but we believe there are some points in there that are worth discussing,” he said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said only Kiev and NATO should be able to determine whether his country can join the alliance.
“No one but Ukraine and NATO members should have a say in the discussions about Ukraine’s future NATO membership,” Kuleba said.
Putin said “of course not” when asked if Russia wants to start a war in Europe, adding “that’s exactly why we put forward proposals on a negotiating process that should result in an agreement ensuring equal security for all, including our country.”
Scholz hoped a diplomatic resolution to the standoff will end the standoff and avert a major war from breaking out on the continent.
“We need to make sure to work towards a peaceful solution of the conflict,” the chancellor said, as he hailed the withdrawal of some Russian troops.
The Russian Defense Ministry announced earlier in the day that some troops would return to their garrisons but that military exercises would continue. It did not say how many troops were leaving.
Kuleba didn’t have much faith in the announcement.
“We won’t believe when we hear, we’ll believe when we see. When we see troops pulling out, we’ll believe in de-escalation,” Kuleba said.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg added: “So far, we have not seen any de-escalation on the ground, not seen any signs of reduced Russian military presence on the borders of Ukraine.”
With Post wires