Russia President Vladimir Putin has told an Italian newspaper that his country was "not a threat to the West", and that he was still committed to a Ukraine peace deal despite a fresh flare-up in violence.

"I would like to say - there's no need to be afraid of Russia," Putin told Corriere della Sera in an interview published on Saturday, ruling out a major conflict between Russia and NATO member countries.

Only a sick person - and even then only in his sleep - can imagine that Russia would suddenly attack NATO.

Vladimir Putin, Russian president

"The world has changed so much that people in their right mind cannot imagine such a large-scale military conflict today."

His comments come as three Baltic countries prepare to ask for a permanent presence of NATO troops as a deterrent to the Russian military. Nato says Russia is backing rebels in Ukraine - which Moscow still denies.

"Only a sick person - and even then only in his sleep - can imagine that Russia would suddenly attack NATO," Putin said.

The Russian president spoke ahead of his visit to Italy next week that will include a meeting with Pope Francis.

Putin's interview was released by the Kremlin just as Group of Seven leaders are gearing up to meet in the German Alpine town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen for a summit this weekend without Russia.

Strategic balance

In the interview, Putin stressed that Russia merely sought to defend itself from outside threats.

He pointed out that NATO members have defence expenditures that are 10 times Russia's military spending, adding that the US military budget was the biggest in the world.

To ensure a strategic balance, Russia will develop "systems to overpower anti-missile defences", Putin said.

Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last year has jangled nerves in Europe, with Baltic and Nordic countries reporting an uptick in Russian military activity over the past year.

Pentagon officials said on Friday that the United States was considering a range of moves to beef up security, including bolstering missile defences or even deploying land-based missiles in Europe.

Speaking about the Ukraine crisis, Putin accused Kiev authorities of being unwilling to implement a European-brokered peace deal agreed in February and enter into dialogue with pro-Moscow rebels who control territories in the country's east.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies