President Vladimir Putin said that Ukraine must be forced into negotiations to end five months of bloody battles between pro-Russian insurgents and the army, whose assaults on cities he compared to Nazi Germany’s tactics.
“The Ukrainian authorities must be forced to begin substantive talks,” Putin said today at Lake Seliger in Russia’s Tver region. “There has to be a substantive -- diplomats like using this word -- understanding of what rights the people of Donbas, Luhansk, the whole of the nation’s southeast will have.”
Putin said the Ukrainian military’s attempt to retake separatist-held areas of the country by force reminds him of World War II when Nazi troops besieged and bombed cities including his hometown of St. Petersburg.
The government in Kiev was joined yesterday by the U.S. and Europe in accusing Russia of escalating the five-month conflict in Ukraine by sending troops over the border to support a counter offensive by the separatists. The U.S. and the European Union threatened Putin with further sanctions. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said today that his nation may seek NATO membership as a result of the latest military deployments.
Russia’s Micex Index extended losses after Putin’s comments, leaving the gauge comprised of 30 stocks 1 percent lower at 1,409.75 as of 2:42 p.m. in Moscow.
Putin said this week’s fightback by the militants is helping protect city residents from army artillery fire. He told the insurgents yesterday to clear a corridor through which surrounded Ukrainian servicemen could escape, saying today that refusal to use that safe passage would be a mistake.
“The latest information is that Ukraine’s leaders and military commanders have decided not to allow them to get out of the cauldron, but attempt to overcome the rebels and exit the fight,” he said. “I think this is a colossal error that will lead to large human casualties.”
The Russian leader reiterated that some of his nation’s troops had strayed accidentally over the border because its easy to get lost there, though said Ukrainian forces cross more frequently in the opposite direction. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has suggested an exchange of soldiers, he said.
Issues such as the two nations shared border can be resolved “easily” once talks begin, Putin said, calling Russians and Ukrainians one people. He said it’s very strange that Ukraine fears switching governance to a federal structure previously advocated for it by Russia.
Putin said Russia is a big country that doesn’t fear anything and urged development of his country’s military infrastructure in the Arctic.
“The Arctic plays a very important role for us with regard to guaranteeing our security -- unfortunately that’s the case,” he said. “The U.S.’s attack submarines are concentrated there near the Norwegian coast. I remind you that the flight time to Moscow of rockets from these vessels is 15-16 minutes. But our fleet is there. A significant part of our submarine fleet.”