Russian President Vladimir Putin has defended his policies in Ukraine and Crimea and slammed NATO expansion and the United States. He also said he trusts German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Russian President Vladimir Putin slammed western sanctions against his country as "geo-political" rather than aimed at solving the crisis in Ukraine and criticized NATO expansion and the United States for trying to impose its will, in a wide-ranging interview published Monday in the popular German daily newspaper "Bild."
Putin pinned the crisis between the West and Russia on NATO expansion into Central Europe despite promises the Alliance would not infringe on Russia's borders. In an argument made previously, the Russian president said NATO and the US took advantage of a weak post-Soviet Russia to expand its influence instead of cooperating with Moscow.
"NATO and the USA wanted a complete victory over the Soviet Union. They wanted to sit on the throne in Europe alone. But now they are sitting there, and we are talking about all these crises we would otherwise not have," Putin said.
"If we had presented our national interests more clearly from the beginning, the world would still be in balance today," Putin said, referring to economic turmoil and domestic issues that took up much of Russia's attention following the collapse of communism.
He said one area where the West and Russia could cooperate was in fighting terrorism. "Even if we do not always agree on every aspect, nobody should take this as an excuse to declare us as enemies," Putin said.
In late September, Moscow launched airstrikes in Syria which it said were primarily targeting "Islamic State" (IS) militants and other "terrorist" groups. The United States and its allies have argued that Russia is targeting "moderate" rebels opposed to Moscow's ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Critics have also said the Syria strikes may possibly serve to distract from Ukraine.
'Kyiv needs to implement Minsk agreements'
To end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Putin said the government in Kyiv needed to abide by the Minsk agreements, drawn up last year between Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France.
While some parts of the Minsk agreements have been met and fighting in eastern Ukraine has died down, Putin said Kyiv has failed to implement sections of the deal that would grant greater autonomy to Donetsk and Luhansk.
"Anything that is missing in the implementation of the Minsk agreement is - without any exception - up to the Kyiv central government of Ukraine. You cannot demand something of Moscow that, in fact, the rulers in Kyiv have to deliver," Putin said.
"The constitutional reform is supposed to give autonomy to eastern Ukraine and to be adopted by the end of 2015. This has not happened, and the year is over. That's not Russia's fault," he added.
Asked if continued clashes in eastern Ukraine need to end first, Putin said that first the constitution has to be reformed, followed by confidence building measures and border security.
Germany has played a major mediator role in eastern Ukraine, something Putin recognized. He described a "professional relationship" with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"I trust her, she is a very open person," Putin said, referring to Merkel. "She is also subject to certain constraints and limitations. But she is honestly trying to settle the crisis, also in the south-east of Ukraine. However, what the European Union is doing with those sanctions is nothing but a theatre of the absurd."
Putin said Western sanctions over Ukraine were causing trouble for Moscow in financial markets but were not behind the economic downturn in the country, which he said was more related to declining energy prices.
"The West's sanctions are not aimed at helping Ukraine, but at geo-politically pushing Russia back. They are foolish and are merely harming both sides," Putin said.