Putin warns West on Ukraine 'red line'
Russian President Vladimir Putin has sternly warned NATO against deploying its troops and weapons to Ukraine, saying it represents a red line for Russia and would trigger a strong response.
Commenting on Western concerns about Russia's alleged intention to invade Ukraine, he said Moscow was equally worried about NATO drills near its borders.
Speaking to participants of an online investment forum, Putin said NATO's eastward expansion had threatened Russia's core security interests.
He expressed concern that NATO could eventually use the Ukrainian territory to deploy missiles capable of reaching Moscow in just five minutes.
"The emergence of such threats represents a 'red line' for us," Putin said on Tuesday.
"I hope that it will not get to that and common sense and responsibility for their own countries and the global community will eventually prevail."
He said Russia had been forced to counter the growing threats by developing new hypersonic weapons.
"What should we do?" Putin said. "We would need to develop something similar to target those who threaten us. And we can do that even now."
Ukrainian and Western officials have expressed worries this month that a Russian military build-up near Ukraine could signal plans by Moscow to invade its ex-Soviet neighbour.
NATO foreign ministers warned Russia on Tuesday that any attempt to further destabilise Ukraine would be a costly mistake.
The Kremlin has insisted it has no such intention and has accused Ukraine and its Western backers of making the claims to cover up their own allegedly aggressive designs.
Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 after the country's Kremlin-friendly president was driven from power by mass protests and also threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency that broke out in Ukraine's east.
Earlier this year, a spike in ceasefire violations in the east and a Russian troop concentration near Ukraine fuelled war fears, but tensions abated when Moscow pulled back the bulk of its forces after maneuvers in April.
Putin argued that to avoid tensions, Russia and the West should negotiate agreements that would safeguard each party's security interests.
The Russian leader noted that Russia has worried about NATO drills near its borders, pointing at a recent exercise that involved US strategic bombers.
After the build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine early this year, Putin and US President Joe Biden held a June summit in Geneva, where they agreed to launch a dialogue on strategic stability and cybersecurity.
Putin on Tuesday hailed the cybersecurity discussions between Russian and US experts, saying "just as with the pandemic, it's necessary to pool efforts to work efficiently".
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, responding on Air Force One to a reporter's question about the threat of a Russian invasion in Ukraine, said "we're deeply concerned about the heightened rhetoric, about the reported military buildup on the border".
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