If Russian soldiers on the border with Ukraine move on the country, it's not Russia's fault. So said Russian President Vladimir Putin at an end-of-year news conference on Thursday, as a reported 100,000 Russian troops amassed near the Ukrainian border. Putin said Russia had only agreed to tolerate Ukraine's possession of territory seen as historically part of Russia, given to the country after the breakup of the Soviet Union, if Ukraine remained neutral, per the New York Times. He added Russia couldn't tolerate foreign militaries—meaning the US-led NATO alliance—moving in. "They are creating on this territory an anti-Russia, with the constant sending over of contemporary weapons, brainwashing the population," Putin said. "Now, they tell us, 'war, war, war.'"
"The impression is they are planning" a military operation "and we are warned in advance, 'Don't get involved, don't meddle, don't defend these people,'" Putin continued, per the Times. Yet "it was the United States that came with its missiles to our home, to the doorstep of our home. And you demand from me some guarantees. You should give us guarantees," he said. "Are we supposed to always look behind our shoulder and wait?" he added, per the Washington Post. Russian diplomats laid out a list of demands last week, including a pledge from NATO that it won't expand east, establish military bases in former Soviet countries, or admit new members. Ukraine has long wanted to join. NATO has already refused some of the demands.
Putin said it was a good sign that the US has agreed to hold talks with Russia on the security concerns in Geneva in the new year. Two days earlier, however, he expressed wariness about US guarantees, noting the country "easily withdraws from all international treaties that for one reason or another become uninteresting to them," per AFP. He also noted Russia would take "appropriate retaliatory military-technical measures" in response to the West's "obviously aggressive stance." Indeed, "we have every right to do so," he said. He added Russia is "extremely concerned" about US missile deployments in Poland and Romania, claiming, "If US and NATO missile systems appear in Ukraine, then their approach time to Moscow will be reduced to seven or 10 minutes." (Read more Russia stories.)