Putin mixes positive notes with threats and keeps the West on the sidelines
Regardless of Mr Putin’s intentions, American officials say they are rallying European allies for coordinated sanctions that will take effect as soon as the military action begins. However, it is not clear that the threat of such punishments would impress Mr Putin, who noted that Russia has lived with Western sanctions for years.
American and European officials also continue to monitor Cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns that they say could prepare the battlefield for any action. The senior administrator noted that “in the past, such actions were often carried out in advance”. The disinformation campaign tried to create a narrative that Ukraine is the country provoking conflict.
As a further sign of Western commitment, Valery V. Gerasimov, Russia’s chief military commander, spoke to his British counterpart Sir Tony Radakin on Thursday and to Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Wednesday. But to underscore the lingering tensions, Russia on Thursday announced rapid paratrooper exercises in and around Crimea, the Black Sea Peninsula annexed by Ukraine in 2014.
Understand the escalating tensions in Ukraine
In his claims of bringing missiles “to our home”, Putin apparently referred to missile defense systems in Poland and Romania. He has claimed that the systems can be used for offensive purposes and could soon be installed in Ukraine; Western officials deny these claims, pointing out that by definition, missile interceptors are only used to repel incoming attacks.
American officials say removing missile defense from NATO countries would undermine European security. They also say they will continue to equip Ukraine with defensive weapons, including Javelin missiles that are used against Russian tanks. But because Ukraine is not a NATO member, NATO has no missile defense or nuclear weapons there.
Thursday’s free-running press conference was a clear demonstration of the Kremlin’s image-building of Mr Putin as an all-round expert and benevolent leader – a “good tsar” who keeps local officials in check while steering the largest country in the world. The long session, designed to demonstrate Putin’s authority and perseverance, included a series of questions on wide-ranging topics, including “Breaking Culture” and Father Frost, Russia’s version of Santa Claus.