Putin and Johnson discuss NATO expansion, Ukraine

The Russian president reiterated Moscow’s opposition to the bloc’s growth

Amid the threat of conflict in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has told British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that Moscow won’t budge on its “well-founded” security demands. One day earlier, the embattled Johnson publicly condemned Putin during a visit to Ukraine.

The leaders spoke by phone on Wednesday, after Johnson missed a scheduled call on Monday as he defended himself in Parliament over domestic issues. According to a readout of the call provided by the Kremlin, Putin criticized Ukraine for violating the Minsk agreements, hammered “NATO’s unwillingness to adequately respond to well-founded Russian concerns,” and accused western powers of “hiding behind references to the so-called ‘open door’ policy of the alliance.”

Shortly before the two leaders spoke, documents leaked to the Spanish newspaper El Pais revealed that US and NATO leaders are unwilling to rule out membership for Ukraine, a step that Moscow would consider unacceptable. Russia has repeatedly backed up its opposition to Ukrainian accession to the bloc by pointing to the 1999 OSCE Charter for European Security, which says that each country “has an equal right to security,” and countries “will not strengthen their security at the expense of the security of other states.” 

However, Western officials have dismissed these  concerns by portraying NATO as a purely defensive organisation, and maintained their commitment to its “open door” policy for future members, including states bordering Russia.

Johnson’s office said that the prime minister warned Putin that an incursion into Ukraine would be a “tragic miscalculation,” and that any diplomatic solution to the current standoff would need to respect “Ukraine’s territorial integrity and right to self-defense,” the latter point presumably meaning Ukraine’s apparent right to join NATO.

One day earlier, Johnson met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev, where he told reporters that the UK believes Ukraine faces “a clear and present danger” of a Russian invasion, and that Britain would stand “shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine in the face of ongoing Russian aggression.”

Johnson, whose government has recently sent anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, also threatened economic sanctions should Russian forces enter Ukraine.

His bellicose stance has met a frosty reception in Moscow, however. Russia’s Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy told Sky News on Wednesday that British diplomacy is “absolutely worthless” and could not be trusted. 

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