Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, delivered a speech Tuesday to top commanders in which he said that he was prepared to use his military against what he said is an increasing threat from NATO. The speech marked a turn to an even more aggressive tone from the Kremlin, and is the first time that Putin has recently threatened to deploy the Russian military.
“If our western colleagues continue this clearly aggressive stance, we will take appropriate military-technical measures in response and react harshly to hostile steps,” he said, adding, “Do they really think we’ll sit idly as they create threats against us?”
Russia has amassed around 100,000 troops, as well as tanks, artillery, and short-range ballistic missiles, at the border with Ukraine, prompting the West to send warnings that sanctions will be imposed if Russia invades.
Putin appeared to be drawing up conflict by placing the blame for escalating tensions on the West. “What’s happening now, the tension developing in Europe, is their fault. At every step Russia was forced to somehow respond,” he said. “At every step the situation grew increasingly worse … and degraded.”
“And I want to stress that we are within our rights to do what is required to ensure Russia’s security and sovereignty,” he added.
U.S. intelligence has shown that Russia could attack Ukraine as soon as the end of January. Putin’s speech seemed to give justification to launching such a campaign. This included accusing the West of supporting separatists in Chechnya.
Russia’s defense minister even claimed at the meeting Tuesday that U.S. mercenaries are planning to launch a “provocation” in Ukraine using chemical weapons. “Tanks with unidentified chemical components have been delivered to the cities of Avdeyevka and Krasny Liman for the completion of the provocations,” Sergei Shoigu said. He provided no evidence.
Like Putin, Shoigu attempted to portray the West as the aggressor. “The military development of the territory of Ukraine by NATO countries continues,” he said. “The situation is aggravated by the supply of helicopters, attack unmanned aerial vehicles, ATGMs [anti-tank guided missiles] by the United States of America and its allies.”
Last week, Russia demanded that NATO deny Ukraine membership and ask permission from the Kremlin before placing troops in any countries that were part of the Soviet Union.
Earlier this month, Biden said, “That is not on the table” regarding sending U.S. troops to Ukraine. Lt. Gen Ben Hodges, who was commanding general of the United States Army Europe from November 2014 to December 2017, criticized that decision, saying, “I agree this is not the time for U.S. military action, but why announce that? That was basically a concession while the Kremlin has only increased their demands.”
“There are still a lot of mixed messages coming out of the White House and a couple of unforced errors that the Kremlin must be quite happy with,” he added.
As a result of the high energy prices and energy shortage, Europe is currently dependent upon Russia’s gas, giving Russia increased leverage if it attacks Ukraine in the near future.