Vladimir Putin’s normally predictable annual press conference briefly veered off the rails Thursday when the Russian president appeared to lose his cool after being questioned about Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine.
When a reporter for Sky News asked whether Moscow could give security guarantees and promise not to invade its neighbor, Putin exploded: “You are demanding guarantees from us? It’s you who should give us guarantees. Immediately. Right now. And not talk it over for decades.”
His comments came as Ukraine released satellite images it said showed more Russian forces building up at its border, and the Russian Defense Ministry announced massive “attack” drills in Crimea.
Moscow has repeatedly claimed the moves are in response to what it sees as the threat of an expanding NATO, while Western officials view the Kremlin’s saber-rattling as a form of coercive diplomacy through which it hopes to keep its grip on Ukraine.
Putin repeatedly portrayed Russia as the victim at his press conference, claiming Moscow had been dragged into the Ukraine conflict when it is really just a “mediator.”
“They want to make us a party to the conflict, and it’s not like that,” he said. (Apparently in his view it was not the Russian forces seizing Crimea in 2014, the years of Kremlin propaganda, Russian support for separatists, and the reported weapons supplies that made Russia a party to the conflict.)
He accused NATO of being the true aggressor, appearing to briefly seethe as he suggested the West has always sought to destroy Russia.
“They tricked us. Just cheated us. Five waves of NATO enlargement,” he said.
“And on top of that—no matter what we did, you always expressed ‘concerns.’ Get out of here with your ‘concerns.’ We will do what we consider necessary. We want to ensure our safety,” he said.
Later in the conference, Putin said there was an overall “positive response” from the U.S. to the Kremlin’s “red line” proposals on NATO.
“Our American partners say they’re ready to start discussions early next year in Geneva. Both sides have named representatives and I hope that things will continue along the same path,” he said.
“Our actions will depend on the situation in the sphere of security. We made clear that the further expansion of NATO in the East is not acceptable. We’re not the ones who came to the States with missiles. They’re the ones setting up missiles right on our doorstep,” he said.
“And what if we set up missiles on the border of the U.S. and Canada? Or Mexico?”
Visibly angry, he went on to vent frustration over the idea of a sovereign Ukraine, suggesting the country actually belongs to Vladimir Lenin.
“And who did California belong to?” he asked, apparently referring to California being part of Mexico prior to the Mexican-American War.
“And Texas? Did they forget that or something? Well okay, everyone has forgotten, and they don’t remember the way they now remember about Crimea. We also don’t remember who created Ukraine–Lenin Vladimir Ilyich, when he created the Soviet Union.”