Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has told British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a phone call that Moscow wants immediate talks with the West to curb any potential eastward expansion of NATO.
The call comes amid heightened tensions over reported Russian military deployment on Ukraine’s border, with the West fearing a military invasion by Moscow. The Kremlin is against Kyiv’s potential membership of the Western military alliance – a demand the NATO chief has rejected, saying “NATO’s relationship with Ukraine is going to be decided by the 30 NATO allies and Ukraine, no one else”.
Putin said in Monday’s call that “there was a need to immediately begin negotiations with the goal of coming up with clear, international legal agreements that would prevent NATO’s further expansion east and the deployment of weapons that threaten Russia to neighbouring states, primarily Ukraine”, according to the Kremlin.
“It was underlined that all this is happening against the background of active military ‘expansion’ on the territory of Ukraine by NATO countries creating a direct threat to the security of Russia,” the Kremlin said.
US intelligence assesses that Russia could be planning a multifront offensive on neighbouring Ukraine as early as next year, involving up to 175,000 soldiers.
The Kremlin denies it plans to invade and says the West is gripped by Russophobia. Moscow says the expansion of NATO threatens Russia and has contravened assurances given to it as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
On its part, Downing Street said Johnson told Putin of his “deep concern” at the Russian troop build-up on Ukraine’s border.
He “reiterated the importance of working through diplomatic channels to de-escalate tensions and identify durable solutions”, the British government statement said.
“The prime minister emphasised the UK’s commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and warned that any destabilising action would be a strategic mistake that would have significant consequences.”
Johnson’s intervention comes after a two-day meeting of the G7 in which the grouping’s top diplomats warned Moscow of “massive consequences” if it invades the former Soviet state.
Also on Monday, European foreign ministers slapped sanctions on Russia’s private military company Wagner, blacklisting eight individuals and three companies associated with the group that is believed to be serving the Kremlin’s efforts to “destabilise” Ukraine, Syria, Libya and several African countries.
Next, the EU ministers signalled their readiness to impose huge new measures targeting Russia’s economy if Russia goes ahead with direct military action.
“Allow me to say, once again, firmly that the European Union is standing united in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.