A Kremlin official has accused Ukrainian authorities in Kyiv of being “henchmen,” acting on orders from the West.
“The West's henchman came to power [in February] and have now, in my opinion, lost some of their sovereignty, independence in decision-making and are acting under orders,” said Nikolai Patrushev, a top security aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He spoke to journalists following a Russian Security Council meeting Tuesday in Moscow, as concerns grow among Russia’s leaders about the West’s reaction to the crisis over Ukraine and what they view as aggressive moves on the part of NATO.
Putin himself addressed the issue during the Security Council meeting.
“We will adequately and proportionately respond to NATO's military infrastructure closing in on our borders,” Putin said in a statement published on the Kremlin’s website.
Russia has upped its rhetoric having been widely accused in the West of being directly or indirectly involved in the downing last week over eastern Ukraine of a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet, which killed all 298 people on board. Ukraine, the United States and European Union countries believe the plane was shot down with a surface-to-air-missile by Russia-backed rebels.
The plane’s downing, met with outrage in the West, has triggered renewed calls for Russia to change course.
"Now's the time for President Putin and Russia to pivot away from the strategy that they've been taking and get serious about trying to resolve hostilities within Ukraine," President Barack Obama said on Monday.
Both the U.S. and Europe are considering new sanctions.
Moscow denies involvement both in the downing of the plane as well as in the backing of rebels in eastern Ukraine, with Russian media circulating theories of a Western conspiracy against Russia.
Speaking in broader terms about what he views as aggressive moves on the part of the West, Putin claimed Tuesday that the missile defense system being pushed by the West in Eastern Europe is in fact an offensive weapon, “part of the offensive-defensive arsenal of the United States.”
“In fact, formations of NATO troops in Eastern European countries are being demonstratively enhanced, including in the waters of the Black and Baltic Seas, with the scope and intensity of operational and combat training being increased,” the Russian leader said.
Putin added that the developments are forcing Russia to bolster its own defense capabilities, including those in Crimea, where he said Moscow will have to "essentially rebuild [its] military infrastructure."
Russia, which has been maintaining military bases in Crimea on the basis of a land-lease agreement it had reached with Kyiv’s previous government, annexed the Ukrainian peninsula in March, triggering the largest tensions in East-West relations since the Cold War.
A new, pro-Western government took over in Kyiv after massive street protests toppled a Russia-backed president in February.
Meanwhile, in remarks critical of Kremlin policies rarely seen in Russian media, a Putin ally warned on Tuesday that Russia risks international isolation over its anti-Western rhetoric.
Alexei Kudrin, a former finance minister credited with repairing Russia fiscally after the country’s financial crisis in the 1990s, said its current approach could isolate the nation and derail its modernization.
"There are forces in the country who have long wanted to distance us, who have wanted isolation, perhaps some kind of self-reliance,” ITAR-TASS quoted Kudrin as saying.
“All this has fallen onto fertile ground and I'm just surprised at the scale of the anti-Western rhetoric which has emerged here,” Kudrin added.
Commenting on the Ukraine crisis in particular, Kudrin said that “Russia in no way should interfere with military forces in the situation in east Ukraine.” He said that such interference would bring with it “uncontrollable risks on both, the economic and political levels.”