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Russia's Putin accuses the U.S. of trying to drag him into war


We got a glimpse yesterday of the world as it looks to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader spoke in public for the first time in weeks. He was at a news conference in Moscow, and he offered his distinctive spin on more than 100,000 troops he has massed near Ukraine. Putin described an invasion of Ukraine not as something he has made extensive preparations to do, but as a trap that the United States wants to lure him into.

He speaks here through an interpreter.


PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Through interpreter) Their main job is to deter the development of Russia, to hinder the development of Russia. And in this sense, Ukraine is just a tool. You can do it in various ways. You can drag us into some kind of military conflict, armed conflict, and by using their allies in Europe to impose these hard-line sanctions against us that the United States is talking about.

INSKEEP: The Russian leader also spoke of diplomatic solutions. Though he said, so far, the West is ignoring his real concerns. What's going on here? We begin in a place where people must listen especially closely - Kyiv, Ukraine - which is where we find NPR's Daniel Estrin.

Daniel, welcome.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: How did Putin's words sound when you heard them in Kyiv?

ESTRIN: Well, I saw a dartboard here with Putin's face on it yesterday, so that gives you a sense...


ESTRIN: ...Of what Ukrainians think of him. I asked one what he thought of Putin's words. And he told me, well, what Putin says doesn't really matter; we all know what he wants. And Putin said - repeated his positions yesterday. NATO's expansion to Eastern Europe is a threat. Putin repeated his demand that Ukraine never be allowed into NATO. And he laid out a new argument, which was that if Ukraine tries to recapture Crimea from Russia, then Russia might have to go to war with all of NATO. He accused the U.S. of wagging the dog.

INSKEEP: I guess we should remind people that Ukraine is not currently scheduled to go into NATO. The U.S. years ago said that they would like that. But NATO has made no move to admit them...

ESTRIN: That's right.

INSKEEP: ...For more than a decade. Now, there is a NATO leader - a NATO nation leader - who was in Ukraine - U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson. What did he have to say?

ESTRIN: He said this is the biggest show of hostility that Ukraine has faced in our lifetime. He said the 100,000 troops that Russia has on Ukraine's borders are far more than the 30,000 troops that captured Crimea in 2014. And he threatened sanctions the moment the first Russian soldier steps foot further into Ukraine.

INSKEEP: OK. So NATO is saying that. What kind of diplomacy is going on this week?

ESTRIN: Well, the bottom line is that diplomacy is continuing. There's a back and forth of proposals. The U.S. has delivered a written response to Russia's security demands. And now the Russians are preparing a formal response to the U.S. So Putin says he's continuing talks. He still wants dialogue.

INSKEEP: OK. We'll keep listening. NPR's Daniel Estrin in Kyiv - thank you so much.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.

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