NATO expansion further east viewed very negatively, Putin tells interviewer
President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin sat down with Fox News anchor Chris Wallace on Monday following the Helsinki Summit where he met with US President Donald Trump. A wide range of topics were covered in the half hour or so that the interview, ostensibly to give the American public and those of other western countries a clearer picture of the Russian leader, took up. Mr. Putin skirted around many of the questions put to him, but one area where he was unequivocal was on any future eastward expansion of NATO and the fact that its eastward expansion following the end of the cold war was already not in the spirit of fostering good US-Russia relations.
After introductions there followed a long period of Wallace not getting anywhere with regards to his questioning on the alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US elections, despite attempting to hand the Russian leader a printed copy of last Friday's indictment from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which listed 12 members of the Russian GRU specifically involved in hacking Democratic party computers. Similar questions were somewhat brushed aside on possible Russian intelligence information on Mr. Trump and whether that might be used to shape his relations with the Kremlin.
Ukraine and Georgia in NATO unthinkable from Russian perspective
However the middle section of the interview presented some concrete statements on the position of NATO, in particular with regard to its expansion through countries close to, and actually bordering, the Russian Federation.
On being asked about how he would view any potential NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, Mr. Putin responded ''negatively.''
''I have a pretty clear understanding of how their [NATO's] decisions are made, I know about the consensus rule, but before the consensus decisions are made on an organisation-wide basis, there is an opportunity for bilateral contacts with other member states,'' said Mr. Putin, speaking through an interpreter, before going on to cite the examples of Poland and Romania, which both host US strategic anti-missile defence units through their NATO membership.
These moves were a ''direct and immediate threat to our national security,'' Mr. Putin said, as would moving these structures closer to Russia's borders, he said, ''and the reaction would be extremely negative.''
Romania joined the NATO alliance in 2004, the same year as Estonia, and Poland joined five years earlier.
Wallace then asked Putin if he had discussed the two forthcoming NATO exercises, Anaconda and Trident Juncture, in particular with reference to indications given by Trump to Kim Jong-Un of North Korea that the US might dial down its military exercises in South Korea, Mr. Putin said that they had not, whilst reiterating that an eastward expansion by NATO would be viewed in a negative light in Russia.
Russia kept its promise to withdraw from central and eastern Europe, NATO still moved in
''The number of NATO servicemen is on the rise in regions where they shouldn't be...increased to the tune of 10,000 people,'' Mr. Putin continued, adding that ''this is incompliant [sic] to the treaties between Russia and NATO.''
Mr. Putin explained that whilst this was a destabilising factor, he hadn't discussed it today with Mr. Trump.
Later on in the interview, Wallace noted that when Putin first became President back in 2000, he was portrayed as something of a democrat, with a positive disposition towards Europe and even as someone who might toy with the idea of joining NATO, but that this all seems to have unravelled down the years.
''Nothing changed about me,'' said Putin on being asked ''what happened?'', and turned the tables by pointing out that it was the NATO nations which changed, by expanding eastward following the collapse of the USSR and the withdrawal of Soviet forces from East Germany.
''Russians were told one thing – that NATO would never extend beyond the German border,'' said Mr. Putin.
''But in two ways that happened, despite our principal posture. Nobody gave a damn about our posture,'' he continued.
''We didn't want the US to withdraw from the ABM treaty, but they did, despite our requests not to do it'' Mr. Putin continued, referring to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed by the US and the Soviet Union, which the US withdrew from in 2002.
What happened to the West?
Other factors which led to the deterioration in relations included the stance on the Yugoslav wars, which saw amongst other things NATO bombing the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999 despite not having a UN Security Resolution on the matter and in the face of oppostion from then-President of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin.
''President Yeltsin was completely against this conflict,'' Putin said.
''It was not us who made these steps,'' he went on.
''What happened to you, is what I want to know, what happened to the west?'' he asked.
With reference to the Crimea and Donald Trump's view on it, the interviewer noted that Donald Trump had said that it 'might as well be part of Russia since everyone there speaks Russian,'' although he apparently has also made statements which imply he belives the region to be a part of Ukraine,, Mr. Putin opined that there had been no annexation since the rejoining of the Crimea to the Russian Federation took place following a democratic referendum.
Other issues covered in the interview included Russia's role in the bombing of Syria and its relations with Syrain leader Bashr al-Assad, and the fate of prominent opponents to the Russian government including Boris Nemtsov, Anna Politkovskaya and most recently, Sergei Skripal.
The full interview, together with analysis in Estonian, can be viewed here.
Chris Wallace is the son of the near legendary US journalist and media personality Mike Wallace, and has been an anchor and political commentator at Fox News since 2003.
Editor: Andrew Whyte