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.
ommenting on Western concerns about Russia’s alleged intention to invade Ukraine, he said that Moscow is equally worried about Nato drills near its borders.
Speaking to participants of an online investment forum, the Russian president said Nato’s eastward expansion has threatened Moscow’s core security interests. He expressed concern that Nato could eventually use the Ukrainian territory to deploy missiles capable of reaching Russia’s command centres in just five minutes.
“The emergence of such threats represents a red line for us,” Mr Putin said. “I hope that common sense and responsibility for their own countries and the global community will eventually prevail.”
He added that Moscow has been forced to counter the growing threats by developing new hypersonic weapons.
“What should we do?” Mr Putin said.
“We would need to develop something similar to target those who threaten us. And we can do that even now.”
He said a new hypersonic missile that is set to enter service with the Russian navy early next year would be capable of reaching targets in comparable time.
“It would also need just five minutes to reach those who issue orders,” Mr Putin said.
The Zircon hypersonic cruise missile, capable of flying at nine times the speed of sound to a range of 1,000km, has undergone a series of tests, most recently on Monday.
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 yesterday 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.
Nato is worried about a Russian build-up of heavy equipment and troops near Ukraine’s northern border, not far from Belarus.
Ukraine says Russia kept about 90,000 troops in the area following massive war games in western Russia earlier this year.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last week that his country’s intelligence service had uncovered plans for a Russia-backed coup d’état.
Russia denied the allegation and rejected the assertion that it is planning to invade Ukraine.
“We are very concerned about the movements we’ve seen along Ukraine’s border. We know that Russia often combines those efforts with internal efforts to destabilise a country. That’s part of the playbook, and we’re looking at it very closely,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
“Any renewed aggression would trigger serious consequences,” Mr Blinken warned ahead of talks in Riga, Latvia, with his counterparts in the 30-country military organisation.
The US has shared intelligence with European allies warning of a possible invasion of Ukraine.
EU diplomats acknowledge the Russian troop movements, but some countries have played down the threat of any imminent invasion ordered by Moscow.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the Nato ministers will “together send an unmistakable message to the Russian government: Nato’s support for Ukraine is unbroken and its independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty are not up for discussion”.
“Honest and sustainable de-escalation steps, which can only go via the route of talks, are all the more important now.
“I will not tire of stressing that the door to such talks is still open to Russia.”
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 after the country’s Moscow-friendly president was driven from power by popular protests.