Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned of the risk of a new arms race in Europe amid a “degrading” security situation in the continent.
“The whole system of European security has now degraded significantly. Tensions are rising and the risks of a new arms race are becoming real,” Putin said in a major article for the German newspaper Die Zeit, on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany during World War II.
He stressed the importance of cooperation between all countries in Europe, noting that security in Europe was possible only if all countries, including Russia, contributed to it.
“We are missing out on the tremendous opportunities that cooperation offers — all the more important now that we are all facing common challenges,” such as the pandemic and its dire social and economic consequences,” Putin said in the article, titled “Being Open, Despite the Past,” which was published on Tuesday.
The Russian leader said that his country had opted for beneficial relations with the European Union, but the bloc had decided to go in a different direction, which resulted in the accession of Germany to the US-led military alliance of NATO, a “relic of the Cold War,” and the subsequent expansion of the alliance into Eastern Europe.
“Since 1999, five more waves of NATO expansion have followed. The organization granted membership to 14 new countries, including several republics of the former Soviet Union, which effectively buried hopes of creating a continent without dividing lines,” Putin said, noting that this policy had forced many nations to make an unnatural choice between Russia and the West.
“The Ukrainian tragedy of 2014 is an example of the consequences that this aggressive policy has led to. Europe actively supported the unconstitutional armed coup in Ukraine. This was where it all started. Why was it necessary to do this? Then-incumbent [Ukrainian] president [Viktor] Yanukovych had already accepted all the demands of the opposition. Why did the USA organize the coup and the European countries weak-heartedly support it, provoking a split within Ukraine and the withdrawal of Crimea?” Putin said.
Armed conflict erupted in Ukraine and Crimea voted to fall under Russian sovereignty in a referendum in 2014. The EU imposed sanctions on Russia over the conflict and Crimea’s unification.
Kiev and its Western allies accused Moscow of having a hand in the ongoing conflict. Moscow, however, denies the allegation.
Putin reiterated that his country was open to the restoration of “a comprehensive partnership” with the EU, saying, “We have many topics of mutual interest.”