After weeks of international criticism over a possible Russian incursion into Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin has for the first time personally addressed the allegations following his video summit with US President Joe Biden.
Russia is a "peace-loving state," Putin said at a press conference in Sochi on Wednesday. It was therefore a "provocative question" whether Russia would invade Ukraine, the Kremlin leader said after meeting Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
During the video summit on Tuesday evening, Biden had strongly warned Putin against a Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to US reports.
Putin reiterated after the conversation with Biden that he hoped Russia's security needs would be taken seriously in the West. He had previously called for an end to NATO's eastward expansion. Russia sees its security above all threatened should Ukraine become a member of the Western defence alliance.
Putin stressed again that Russia would not accept the admission of its neighbour Ukraine into the Western defence alliance NATO.
The United States had stated that each country should be allowed to choose its own partners. Putin now said that he saw it that way, too - but that such partnerships should not be at the expense of the security of other countries.
"Unfortunately, the NATO bloc has taken the line of confrontation towards Russia," Putin said. The Western military alliance sees Russia as an adversary. Moscow itself, however, was not looking for confrontation, he said. He hoped that the West would take Russia's concerns seriously.
The roughly two-hour video call also covered the ongoing talks on a new nuclear disarmament initiative between the two largest nuclear powers, the cybersecurity of both countries, as well as Iran's nuclear programme and other international conflicts.
Putin described his negotiations with Biden as "open, factual and constructive" - with the possibility of continuing the dialogue.
European allies briefed
Biden conducted a videoconference with European allies following his inconclusive summit with Putin, a German government spokesperson said on Wednesday.
Biden briefed outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson late on Tuesday, according to Steffen Seibert, Merkel's spokesperson.
The Europeans underlined "their full support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity" during that meeting, Seibert said.
All participants stressed "the need for Russia to reduce tensions and seek a diplomatic solution, including through the Normandy format for implementing the Minsk agreements," he added, referring to Ukraine peace efforts mediated by France and Germany.
The United States has been accusing Russia for weeks now of deploying troops not far from the border with Ukraine, as fears grow in the West of a possible Russian invasion.
Russia rejects the claims and accuses Ukraine of having moved more than 120,000 soldiers towards the eastern Donbas region, where pro-Russian separatists have been battling for control since 2014.