Vladimir Putin has warned he is willing to take ‘military measures’ in response to ‘unfriendly’ Western action in Ukraine, in the clearest sign yet that the Russian strongman is gearing up for war.
Putin, speaking during a meeting at the defence ministry on Tuesday, said Russia will ‘react toughly to unfriendly steps’ and stressed ‘that we have every right to do so.’
America has been warning for weeks that Putin appears to be readying tens of thousands of troops, tanks and artillery pieces to invade Ukraine, but Putin has insisted it is merely a defence force – until now.
He spoke just days after Russia issued a list of demands to NATO, including that Ukraine never be allowed to join the alliance and that its forces be withdrawn from former Soviet states.
Dmitry Kiselyov, a media mogul known as Putin’s mouthpiece, yesterday threatened to ‘put a gun to America’s head’ if NATO forces are stationed in Ukraine and warned the alliance to back off ‘otherwise, everyone will be turned into radioactive ash.’
‘We need long-term legally binding guarantees,’ Putin told the meeting on Tuesday, even as he warned against taking America at its word.
‘The United States easily withdraws from all international treaties that for one reason or another become uninteresting to them,’ he added.
‘What is going on, this tension that builds up in Europe, it is their fault, At each step Russia had to respond somehow.
‘At each step the situation got worse and worse, degraded and degraded. And today we are in the situation when we need to decide something.’
Russia ‘cannot allow’ the West to put its weapons so close to Moscow, he added.
‘If this infrastructure moves, if the US and NATO missile systems appear in Ukraine, then their flight time to Moscow will be reduced to 7-10 minutes, and with the deployment of hypersonic weapons – to five,’ he said.
The Kremlin said today that high-level talks between the US and Russia are underway over the list of demands, but said no agreements have yet been reached.
The White House has said it will consult with NATO allies over the demands, but it was willing to make no promises.
Asked about those demands by the BBC on Monday, Mr Kiselyov responded: ‘If Ukraine ever joins NATO or if NATO develops military infrastructure there, we will hold a gun to America’s head. We have the military capability.’
Russia is ‘one hundred per cent’ willing to use force to defend its red lines, Mr Kiselyov added, saying that it is a ‘matter of life or death’ for his country.
He also warned of the risk of a repeat of the Cuban Missile Crisis if NATO deploys missiles in regions where they can quickly strike Moscow.
‘It would be good to harmonise our interests and not put Russia in a position where missiles could reach us in four minutes,’ he added.
‘Russia is ready to create a comparable, analogous threat, by deploying its weapons close to decision-making centres.
‘But we are suggesting a way of avoiding this, of not creating threats. Otherwise, everyone will be turned into radioactive ash.’
Meanwhile a presenter on another state-owned channel, Rossiya 1, was warning viewers on Monday that ‘maybe we really are on the verge of war with NATO.’
The presenter said: ‘The United States must sign off on its hegemony; its hegemony is over.’
‘Either they step back voluntarily or we’ll make them do it by force. And Russia makes no guarantees about the survival of Ukraine, especially as a sovereign state.
‘Maybe we really are on the eve of war with NATO.’
While top diplomats from both Russia and the US have ‘discussed’ the Kremlin’s demands, Moscow says it has yet to receive a ‘substantive’ response to them.
The White House has said only that it will ‘discuss’ the list with its allies, but added that Russia cannot be allowed to interfere in the security policy of other nations.
Amid the rising tensions, Washington advised all US citizens against travel to Ukraine due to the imminent threat of Russian invasion.
The warning was contained within a travel alert issued on Monday that raised the alert level for Ukraine to four – the highest the scale goes.
US citizens were warned of the risk ‘that Russia is planning for significant military action against Ukraine’ and that the security situation in border areas and around Crimea ‘could deteriorate with little notice’.