Russian President Vladimir Putin told the German daily newspaper BILD that he believes Russia's deteriorating relationship with the West was the result of many "mistakes" made by NATO, the US and Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
"We have done everything wrong," Putin told BILD publisher Kai Diekmann and BILD politics editor Nikolaus Blome last week, according to a transcript provided to Business Insider.
"From the beginning, we failed to overcome Europe’s division. Twenty-five years ago, the Berlin Wall fell, but invisible walls were moved to the East of Europe. This has led to mutual misunderstandings and assignments of guilt. They are the cause of all crises ever since," he said.
The US, the former Soviet Union and the post-soviet states who wanted to join NATO should have "redefine[d] a zone in Central Europe that would not be accessible to NATO with its military structures," Putin said.
Instead, NATO embarked on an "expansion to the east," allowing the post-Soviet Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — to join the organization. This resulted from the US' desire for "complete victory over the Soviet Union" after the Cold War ended in 1991, Putin claimed.
Putin has recently been upping his rhetoric toward the West. Significantly, the Russian leader — who is currently juggling Moscow's intervention in both Syria and eastern Ukraine — began 2016 by designating NATO a "threat" in an updated paper on Russia’s national-security strategy.
"They wanted to sit on the throne in Europe alone. ... You can also see this striving for an absolute triumph in the American missile defense plans," Putin said in the interview, referring to the US' plans to construct a missile-defense shield that Russia has staunchly opposed.
(White House Photo)
Russia's annexation of Crimea in March of 2014, Putin told BILD, was simply the Kremlin's way of protecting the people of Crimea from being confined within the borders imposed upon them by the US and Europe after the West claimed victory in the Cold War.
"Our soldiers have merely prevented the Ukrainian troops on Crimea from impeding the freedom of expression of the people," Putin said. "For me, it is not borders and state territories that matter, but people’s fortunes."
"If the Kosovars have the right to self-determination, why should people in Crimea not have it?" Putin asked, referring to the UN's determination in 2008 that Kosovo should become independent of Serbia.
(Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Krem/Reuters)
Putin, however, conceded that Russia has made its own mistakes since the end of the Cold War.
"We were too late," he said. "If we had presented our national interests more clearly from the beginning, the world would still be in balance today."
"After the demise of the Soviet Union, we had many problems of our own for which no one was responsible but ourselves: the economic downfall, the collapse of the welfare system, the separatism, and of course the terror attacks that shook our country," he continued. "In this respect, we do not have to look for guilty parties abroad."
Russia launched a military intervention in Syria last September, and has reportedly been bolstering the pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine since the crisis erupted there in 2014.
Putin continues to deny that the Kremlin ever sent ground troops to fight in Ukraine, stating recently that any Russian soldiers there are either volunteers or "advisers."
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