“For us, it is the most serious challenge — a challenge to our security,” he said, adding that this is why the Kremlin needs “long-term, legally binding guarantees” from the West, as opposed to “verbal assurances, words and promises” that Moscow can’t trust.

Russian president Vladimir Putin on Tuesday reiterated his demand for guarantees from the U.S. and its allies that NATO will not expand eastwards, blaming the West for “tensions that are building up in Europe,” even as Russia has massed more than 100,000 soldiers near the border with Ukraine, which Putin regards as a historic part of Russia.

Putin’s speech at a meeting with Russia’s top military brass came just days after Moscow submitted draft security documents demanding that NATO deny membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries and roll back the alliance’s military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe — bold ultimatums that are almost certain to be rejected.

The demands — contained in a proposed Russia-U.S. security treaty and a security agreement between Moscow and NATO — were drafted amid soaring tensions over a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine that has stoked fears of a possible invasion. Russia has denied it has plans to attack its neighbor but pressed for legal guarantees that would rule out NATO expansion and weapons deployment there.

Putin said Tuesday that if U.S. and NATO missile systems appear in Ukraine, it will take those missiles only minutes to reach Moscow.

“For us, it is the most serious challenge — a challenge to our security,” he said, adding that this is why the Kremlin needs “long-term, legally binding guarantees” from the West, as opposed to “verbal assurances, words and promises” that Moscow can’t trust.

In 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine, working with Moscow-friendly local militias financed by Russia. Backed by Russian money and military might, these forces continue to occupy two eastern provinces and has annexed the Crimean peninsula. (With AP reports)

© Copyright LaPresse