Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that Ukraine’s army is a NATO proxy whose geopolitical aim is to constrain Russia.
“This is not the army, per se, this is a foreign proxy, in this case a foreign NATO legion, which, of course, doesn’t pursue the objective of national interests of Ukraine.
“They have entirely different goals, and they are tied with the achievement of the geopolitical goals of containing Russia, which absolutely does not fall in place with the national interests of the Ukrainian people,” Putin said on Monday.
“We often say: the Ukrainian army, the Ukrainian army. But in fact, who’s fighting there? Indeed, there are, in part, official units of armed forces, but for the most part it’s the so-called ‘volunteer nationalist battalions,'” Putin added.
His defiant tone comes as Russian-backed rebels launched an assault on the vital Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, killing 30 people. Over the weekend, the New York Times noted that Ukraine and NATO have flagged “Russian troops in unmarked uniforms apparently joining the separatists in the assaults on Ukrainian positions.”
In order to understand what Putin’s anti-NATO rhetoric means, it’s important to understand how Russia sees Ukraine from the military standpoint.
Here’s the basic rundown of Putin’s stance:
Russia has long viewed Ukraine as an area that separated Russia from the West, and as an added layer of protection on Russia’s western flank against NATO.
Following the fall of the USSR, Russia and Ukraine remained politically and economically involved, but Ukraine increasing kept exploring its European interests in recent years — mostly in order to grow its economy.
Meanwhile, its former president Viktor Yanukovych tended to lean pro-Russia. And ultimately in late 2013, he rejected stronger ties with Europe in favour of Russia. This led to mass protests and rioting in Kiev, and then Yanukovych’s eventual ousting.
Since then, Ukraine established a pro-Western government, which Russia sees as illegitimate.
Consequently, any currently Western help or influence in Ukraine, to Putin, looks like the West is aggressively creeping towards Russia — especially given Ukraine’s pursuit of economic integration with the West.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.