NATO expansion a 'direct threat to Russia' - Putin
Speaking at the end of NATO’s annual summit in Bucharest, Vladimir Putin said NATO was in principle a threat to Russia.
With regard to concerns over NATO’s approach to Russia’s borders, Putin said the North Atlantic Treaty is still in force and that Russia's position should be respected.
“No one has got rid of the Washington Agreement. We have liquidated our bases in Cameroon, Vietnam and Cuba. We have moved our troops out of Eastern Europe and got rid of heavy arms in Europe, in general. What did we get in return? A base in Romania where we are now, a base in Bulgaria and AMD (anti-missile defence) bases in Poland and the Czech Republic”.
The President said it all amounted to a movement of military installations closer to Russia’s borders.
“Why don’t we talk about this in the open, honestly and directly with all our cards laid out on the table?” he suggested.
However, Putin insisted that Moscow’s co-operation would depend largely “on the extent to which NATO member states will take into account Russia's interests”.
Addressing reporters when the talks ended, Putin also mentioned Iran’s nuclear programme. He confirmed Russia’s readiness to fulfill its obligations to Iran in the field of nuclear fuel deliveries.
Why Russia can do without NATO
President Putin also took the opportunity to explain why Russia is not interested in joining NATO.
“Russia does not aspire to be a NATO member – thank God. In terms of providing for our safety, we are a self-sufficient country. And we don't intend to sacrifice part of our sovereignty to create the illusion of increasing our security”.
However, he stressed that Russia “intends to cooperate with NATO as well as with other international organisations”.
Touching on the perceived benefits of joining NATO, Putin challenged the notion that NATO enlargement brings democracy to its new members. He said that idea was ‘greatly exaggerated’. NATO, he said, is not some ‘automatic democratisor.’
“Take Ukraine, if it were accepted to NATO yesterday, would it have become more of a democracy? Is it not a democracy now? Absurd!” Putin said.
He also highlighted the Baltic States on Russia’s western border, saying their issues with ‘non-citizen populations’ illustrate how some NATO members have problems with human rights.
“In Latvia there are hundreds of thousands of non-citizens – aliens – and such a state has been criticised by international organisations. This is a non-democratic state of society, and entry to NATO hasn't changed a thing for those hundreds of thousands of people. So, this idea of NATO as a democratising instrument has been overblown,” Putin said.
The ‘absolute nonsense’ of CFE treaties
The status of the CFE (Conventional Forces in Europe) treaty has also been raised. Russia wants a new and ratified version to be adopted. Putin said the current uncertainty was not caused by Russia.
“Russia has often been criticised for not being co-operative. But why should we be co-operative if national security is threatened? We did not quit the treaty on anti-missile defence. After this the old system of international relations was abandoned”.
Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE)
Putin also mentioned that Russia is criticised abroad for suspending its CFE commitments, saying that those critics, however, haven't ratified the Adapted Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe.
“Russia fulfilled its CFE commitments unilaterally for many years. The Baltic nations only signed an old version of the CFE – not the 'adapted' version. In practice, in accordance with the old treaty which they signed, it means the Baltic States are a military district of the Soviet Union, so I have to appoint a military commander for them. But this is absolute nonsense,” Russia’s leader said.
Many, including the Romanian president prior to the NATO summit, have accused Russia of not being able to abandon a ‘Cold War type of thinking’. Putin challenged those accusations, saying it’s in nobody’s interest:
“Maybe there are some who would want to exploit the murky waters of another cold war. But global players – Europe, the USA and Russia, cannot benefit from a return to the past”.
Russia’s president said there’s no need for such u-turn.
“I would like to draw your attention to the fact that there are no ideological divisions in Europe now. We have no major things that divide us. Speaking of concerns, we want to be heard and we want to address the concerns and the issues together,” Putin said.
Happy to step down
Speaking about the eight years of his presidency, Putin said he is glad his tenure is coming to an end and promised journalists there will be some interesting times ahead with his successor, Dmitry Medvedev.
“Like any person who is responsible about his or her official duties, I'm looking forward to shifting this burden from my shoulders to the shoulders of another man. As they say in my country, there is nothing to be sorry about. I'm demob happy, it's the end of my tenure”.
Putin said he thinks he has been working hard and efficiently.
“As for my successor, he is very well educated. You'll have some interesting times with him!” the outgoing president promised.
To watch the full version of Putin's speech at the NATO summit in Bucharest please follow the link.
Discussions on major security issues will continue when President Putin hosts President Bush at his Black Sea residence in Sochi this weekend.
The two leaders will meet for the last time as presidents and hope to
wrap up the foreign policy issues of their tenure.
U.S. missile defence plans for Eastern Europe are expected to dominate the talks.