At one point in his four-hour televised question and answer session Thursday, Putin broached the connection between NATO expansion, so-called ballistic missile defense, and Crimea. From the Kremlin website:
“I’ll use this opportunity to say a few words about our talks on missile defense. This issue is no less, and probably even more important, than NATO’s eastward expansion. Incidentally, our decision on Crimea was partially prompted by this.
“Needless to say, first and foremost we wanted to support the residents of Crimea, but we also followed certain logic: If we don’t do anything, Ukraine will be drawn into NATO sometime in the future. We’ll be told: “This doesn’t concern you,” and NATO ships will dock in Sevastopol, the city of Russia’s naval glory.
“But it isn’t even the emotional side of the issue. The point is that Crimea protrudes into the Black Sea, being in its center, as it were. However, in military terms, it doesn’t have the importance it used to have in the 18th and 19th centuries — I’m referring to modern strike forces, including coastal ones.
“But if NATO troops walk in, they will immediately deploy these forces there. Such a move would be geopolitically sensitive for us because, in this case, Russia would be practically ousted from the Black Sea area. We’d be left with just a small coastline of 450 or 600km, and that’s it!
“In this way, Russia may be really ousted from this region that is extremely important for us, a region for which so many Russians gave up their lives during all the previous centuries. This is a serious thing. So we shouldn’t fear anything but we must consider these circumstances and react accordingly.
“As I’ve just said, the same is happening with our talks on the deployment of US missile defense elements. This is not a defensive system, but part of the offensive potential deployed far away from home. Again we’re being told: ‘This is not against you.’
“However, at the expert level, everyone understands very well that if these systems are deployed closer to our borders, our ground-based strategic missiles will be within their striking range. Everyone is well aware of this, but we’re being told: ‘Please believe us, this is not against you.’
“Our American partners have turned down our proposal to sign even some trifling legal paper that would say that these systems are not directed against us. Surprising as it is, but this is a fact. Naturally, we are bound to ask: “And why do you refuse to sign anything if you believe this is not directed against us?”
“It would seem a trifle—a piece of paper that could be signed today and thrown away tomorrow—but they are reluctant to do even that. If they deploy these elements in Europe, we’ll have to do something in response, as we’ve said so many times. But this means an escalation of the arms race! Why do this?
“It would be much better to look at this issue and determine if there are missile threats from some directions and decide how this system should be controlled or accessed. It would be sensible to do it together, but no, they don’t want that.
“Naturally, we’ll continue these talks with patience and persistence, but in any event, we’ll do everything to guarantee the security of the Russian people, and I’m sure we’ll succeed.”