President takes aim at new US defence bill, saying it is aiming at ‘destabilising’ efforts in Ukraine
Russian president Vladimir Putin has warned NATO against deployment of military units or weapons to Ukraine, threatening to retaliate if the group took any step aimed at destabilising the former Soviet republic.
“There is a Nato bill that calls for some kind of enlargement and we are going to respond to this,” Putin told a joint news conference with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, in Moscow on Friday, referring to a bill recently passed by the US Senate and House of Representatives in defence policy.
“We have announced that, if they start deploying military units or weapons in Ukraine, we will retaliate. We will be forced to do this,” he said.
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When Putin was asked if Russia would consider if it was acting within the terms of a Minsk ceasefire agreement between Moscow and Kiev, he replied: “The rules of the game, of course.”
The Russian president said the Minsk agreement, aimed at ending years of fighting in eastern Ukraine, had been signed to resolve the Ukrainian conflict, and not for military purposes, as both sides had attempted to use the talks to repress the pro-Russian rebellion in the east, causing a huge loss of life and millions of dollars of damage.
He also referred to a series of recent incidents that he said Kiev had complained about to Nato.
“Recently, Kiev tried to get its hands on a Russian fighter aircraft that some Western special services seized,” he said. “Only a few days ago, Kiev claimed that a Russian aircraft was illegally captured. I am told it really happened. Kiev began to assert that Russia is committing violations in air space. We received statements from Nato complaining about these events. The aim seems to be to stir tensions, destabilise the situation in Europe and the situation in Ukraine.”
Putin said Moscow would only look into preventing these incidents when Kiev took the necessary steps to ensure air space was safe.
“If they do not take such necessary measures, we will look into implementing the applicable protocols.”
Putin also confirmed his country had started withdrawing troops from the border with Ukraine.
Putin dismissed the referendum on Sunday by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic that gave its citizens a referendum on secession from Ukraine as a show of people power.
Russian-backed rebels began a separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine in 2014, prompting Russia to annex the Crimea peninsula last year.
Putin refused to be drawn on whether Russia had a role in the suspected poisoning in Britain of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian intelligence officer who betrayed agents, and his daughter Yulia.