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WASHINGTON – In a meeting before the Russian National Security Council, President Vladimir Putin announced the end of cooperation between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, emphasizing the need for a buffer zone with the Western alliance and effectively ending missile defense cooperation, according to informed sources.
Putin’s decision at the July 22 meeting to end cooperation with the West follows the imposition by the U.S. and Europe of stringent sanctions aimed at Russia’s defense, energy and financial sectors.
The sanctions were imposed against Russia due to Moscow’s support of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and what the West believes was Russian help to the rebels in shooting down a Malaysia Airlines flight, killing 298 people. Analysts believe the rebels, equipped with a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile, mistook the civilian airliner for a Ukrainian cargo plane.
The sources said Moscow views Ukraine as critical to its geo-strategic posture to maintain a buffer zone between the Russian Federation and countries bordering Russia that belong to NATO.
The Russian president, leaving little doubt that the relationship between Russia and NATO is over, the sources said, will go ahead with deployment of the Iskander-M tactical ballistic missile system to counter Western anti-missile deployments.
Putin also will reinforce the Russian military presence in Crimea, which Russia recently annexed from Ukraine after a referendum from the predominantly Russian-speaking population.
Putin’s pronouncement all but kills the pleading by President Obama in March 2012 to then-President Dmitry Medvedev in South Korea, which was caught on a hot microphone.
“This is my last election,” Obama told Medvedev, patting him on the arm as they sat opposite each other. “After my election I have more flexibility” in working on a resolution of the ballistic missile standoff between the two countries.
“I understand,” Medvedev said in response. “I will transmit this information to Vladimir,” referring to Putin, who then was prime minister.
Putin was the Russian president from May 2000 to 2008 and served as prime minister from 2008 to 2012. In May 2012, Putin was reelected as president of Russia.
Russian relations with the U.S. and Europe have reached a low point over events in Ukraine and the shooting down of the Malaysian flight, which the U.S. believes was done by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The incident came after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. A majority of the Russian-speaking population in Crimea voted to return to Russia. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev gave the peninsula to Ukraine in 1954.
The crisis in the Crimea followed the revolt in Ukraine in which demonstrators ousted the pro-Russian but democratically elected president, Viktor Yanukovych, who presently is in exile in Moscow.
Yanukovych’s ouster came due to his decision not to align with the European Union but instead join the Russian Eurasia Union. Russia also has proposed financial terms to assist Ukraine in its major debt to Russia for the natural gas it receives.
The debt remains unpaid, and Moscow now has threatened to raise the price of oil and cut off exports, which could affect Europe’s supply, since the natural gas pipelines from Russia are located in Ukraine.
Moscow contends the Iskander missiles are necessary because Russia’s strategic defense system is weakened by the West's deployment of anti-ballistic missile systems in Europe.
While Putin conceded there is no actual threat to the “sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Russia, he said the emphasis needs to be made to insure Russia’s integrity.
He said the fact that the West can impose sanctions on a country such as Russia suggests “the very notion of state sovereignty is being washed out.”
Putin said the West, through sanctions, has presented Russia “with an ultimatum – either you let us destroy the part of the population that is ethnically, culturally and historically close to Russia, or we introduce sanctions against you."
"This is a strange logic, and absolutely unacceptable, of course,” he said.
Putin reportedly was firm in his intent to confront what he said was an encroachment of NATO on Russia’s sovereignty.
"We will react appropriately and proportionately to the approach of NATO’s military infrastructure toward our borders, and we will not fail to notice the expansion of global missile defense systems and increases in the reserves of strategic non-nuclear precision weaponry,” Putin said.
“We are often told that the ABM (anti-ballistic missile) system is a defense system. But that is not the case,” Putin said, referring to the ongoing U.S. deployment of an ABM system in Europe.
“This is an offensive system,” he said. “It is part of the offensive defense system of the United States on the periphery (of Russia). Regardless of what our foreign colleagues say, we can clearly see what is actually happening – groups of NATO troops are clearly being reinforced in Eastern European states, including in the Black and Baltic seas.
“And the scale and intensity of operational and combat training is growing,” he said.
According to analysts, Russia will deploy additional Iskander missile systems along Russia’s western borders and in Kaliningrad.
The placement puts within easy reach the Szczecin military facility in northwestern Poland, where some of the Western-deployed missiles are to be located.