Putin downplays troop buildup, dodges question on Ukraine NATO entry

Russian President Vladimir Putin emerged from closed-door talks with President Joe Biden Wednesday claiming to be committed to help solve the crisis in Ukraine that he fomented, but he dismissed any notion Russian arms and personnel are the reason the war persists.

Putin also refused to address the possibility of Ukraine’s entry into NATO while blaming American exercises in Europe for his own troop buildup of 100,000 soldiers on Ukraine's eastern border.

The much-anticipated summit meeting between Biden and Putin was shorter than many anticipated, clocking in at two-and-a-half hours. Both acknowledged Ukraine was a main issue, with the Russian president saying journalists were “dancing around” the subject in many questions he fielded.

Ukraine remains in a state of limbo due to its conflict with pro-Russian separatists, and the annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 resulted in heavy sanctions on Russia. Meanwhile, the quasi-states of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine owe their existence to Russian arms and military expertise. America’s commitment to democracy and stability in Europe is on the line in Ukraine, Biden later indicated.

“Let’s take the situation surrounding Ukraine and Crimea. Everybody’s dancing around that, right?” Putin said through a translator when asked if Russia would commit to a stable foreign policy.

Putin briefly recounted the incident that immediately preceded his invasion and annexation of Crimea in February 2014: the Ukrainian movement that removed pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych from office in favor of a pro-Western leader.

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“There was a need to carry out a bloody coup d’état, which led to results that are well known in East Ukraine,” Putin said. “In my view, we are acting absolutely appropriately to counter threats that are emerging against us.”

Putin also dodged a question about Ukraine’s possible entry into NATO and downplayed his troop buildup along Ukraine’s eastern border in March, pointing fingers at American Defender-Europe exercises in the Balkans and Black Sea regions concluding with far fewer troops and more transparent objectives, say commanders.

“As for the entry by Ukraine into NATO, this issue was broached. That remains to be discussed,” Putin said.

“We are conducting exercises on our own territory, just like the United States carries out a lot of exercises on their territory, but we didn’t carry out any exercises bringing our personnel and our equipment to the United States," the Russian president added. "Regrettably, the United States government is doing that right now. That’s why the concerns should be not with Russia but with the United States.”

From Putin’s commitment to work as a mediator in eastern Ukraine to sabotaging Ukraine’s entry into NATO, Ukrainian security analyst Alexander Khara rejected Putin’s optimistic notion he would “reach an agreement on everything" with America out of hand.

“Russia used to be an empire of evil. Now it’s an empire of lies,” Khara told the Washington Examiner from Kyiv.

“Without Ukraine as part of the West, there’s no possibility to have Europe whole and free,” explained Khara, who described the presence of Russian troops, weaponry, and propaganda outlets in the Eastern region known as Donbas.

Biden only repeated a platitude regarding assistance to Ukraine in his own press conference but gave no further details.

“I communicated the United States's unwavering commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” he said. “We agreed to pursue diplomacy related to the Minsk Agreement.”

On June 11, the Department of Defense announced an additional $150 million in military assistance for Ukraine, including counter-artillery radars, counter-unmanned aerial systems, secure communications gear, electronic warfare, and military medical evacuation equipment. The U.S. has given Ukraine more than $2.5 billion in security assistance since 2014.

The 2014 Minsk agreement signed by representatives of Ukraine, Donetsk, Luhansk, and Russia defined a form of ceasefire that would contain the conflict to the border region and limit its impact on civilians.

In the seven years that have followed, the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe has recorded dozens of violations, including 100 mm-plus caliber shells fired by Russian-backed separatists at the Ukrainian side. Ukrainians also die each month from sniper fire committed by Russian commandos, according to leaked video.

“Putin claims Russia is a mediator, not an aggressor,” Khara said.

The Russian president called on Ukraine to change its constitution and give autonomy to the Donbas, including offering new elections.

“On Donbas elections, it’s not a starter,” Khara said. “In principle, we cannot reintegrate the Russian proxies as a veto tool on Ukrainian foreign and domestic policy.”

Putin tried to dodge a question on when he would stop threatening Ukraine, insisting that a moderator give the microphone to Russia-friendly outlet RTV.

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But the CNN questioner attempted a follow-up question.

“I didn’t hear that part of the question, it wasn’t interpreted," Putin said. "To commitments under Ukraine, we only have one commitment, promoting the implementation of the Minsk agreements. If the Russian side is prepared to do it, then we will take that path without any doubt.”

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Tags: News, National Security, Department of Defense, Pentagon, Ukraine, Russia, Joe Biden, Putin, NATO, Crimea

Original Author: Abraham Mahshie

Original Location: Putin downplays troop buildup, dodges question on Ukraine NATO entry