Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged on Wednesday that he provided the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) with an opportunity to expand while simultaneously claiming the United States is using its foreign influence to keep NATO “client states in reign.”
NATO officially invited Finland and Sweden to become members of the post-World War II alliance, a move Russia attempted to block with a series of threats. Officials have pointed to Putin’s attack on Ukraine as helping to strengthen the alliance and noted the war backfired on his goals because the war gave NATO reason to expand.
When asked about NATO Secretary-General Jen Stoltenberg’s remark that Putin’s getting the opposite of what he wanted, Putin criticized the nature of the alliance but acknowledged Russia may have motivated NATO.
“Our position has always been … that NATO is a relic of the Cold War and is only being used as an instrument of US foreign policy designed to keep its client states in rein. This is its only mission. We have given them that. opportunity, I understand that. They are using these arguments energetically and quite effectively to rally their so-called allies, “Putin told reporters at the sixth Caspian Summit.
In what is being described as NATO’s “biggest overhaul” since the Cold War, NATO’s approximate 40,000 troops are slated to multiply by over seven times to over 300,000 troops — growing even more about eight years after Russia invaded the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
Although Putin said he does not object to Finland and Sweden joining NATO because Russia does “not have territorial issues or disputes with them” as it has with Ukraine, he said the development creates unneeded tensions.
“[Finland and Sweden] should know that they did not face any threats before but, if military contingents and infrastructure are deployed in their territory now, we will have to take mirror-like actions and create the same threats for them that are created for us, “Putin added.
The Russian president also said that NATO was “turning Ukraine into an anti-Russia, a bridgehead for trying to stir up Russia itself,” mentioning alleged rebukes of Russian culture and language that helped stir up conflict.
Ukraine’s long been hoping for admission into NATO, as it would provide significant security guarantees from future attacks by Russia. The Kremlin has held firm in its opposition to Ukraine’s membership, making it a key sticking point in negotiations with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Zelensky acknowledged Ukraine might never be admitted to NATO and seemed to put the idea of joining the alliance on the back burner. But, on Wednesday Ukrainian officials expressed optimism that Ukraine could follow the same formula as Sweden and Finland and gain quick admission. Experts have expressed concerns that Ukraine joining NATO could escalate the conflict with Russia and drag countries into a world war.
When asked about the Russian military operation in Ukraine — whether objectives have evolved or if there is a specific time duration of keeping forces across the border — Putin said “nothing has changed” since the initial invasion on February 24.
“We are working calmly and steadily. As you can see, our forces are moving forward and attaining the objectives that have been set for the particular period of the engagement. We are proceeding according to plan.”
The Russia-Ukraine conflict has now gone on for more than six months and has led to over 8.4 million Ukrainians fleeing the country. While originally thought to be a quick military operation for Russia, financial aid for weaponry in addition to neighboring countries taking in Ukrainians has caused the conflict to escalate.
Ukrainian soldiers’ overtaking of Snake Island in the Black Sea on Thursday after 127 days of occupation is being viewed as a potentially significant moment in the conflict, acting as a strategic and symbolic victory.
Group of Seven (G7) world leaders this week called out Putin and Russia for an alleged “war crime” involving a missile attack on a mall in central Ukraine. Leaders continued to express their “unwavering support” for Ukraine, including providing financial, military and humanitarian aid “for as long as it takes.”