Russia is not a threat to the West, President Vladimir Putin insisted in an interview published on Saturday, saying that he supported a Ukraine peace deal following a fresh outbreak of violence in the east of the ex-Soviet country.
"I would like to say – there's no need to be afraid of Russia," Putin told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera in an interview published Saturday, ruling out a major conflict between Russia and NATO member countries.
"The world has changed so much that people in their right mind cannot imagine such a large-scale military conflict today."
"We have other things to do, I can assure you," the Russian president said in the interview, the transcript of which was released by the Kremlin.
"Only a sick person — and even then only in his sleep — can imagine that Russia would suddenly attack NATO."
Speaking ahead of his visit to Italy next week, Putin stressed that Russia merely sought to defend itself from outside threats.
He said that NATO members have defense expenditures that are 10 times Russia's military spending, adding that the US military budget was the biggest in the world.
Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last year has jangled nerves in Europe, with Baltic and Nordic countries reporting an uptick in Russian military activity over the past year.
Pentagon officials said on Friday that the United States is considering a range of moves to beef up security, including bolstering missile defenses or even deploying land-based missiles in Europe.
Speaking about the Ukraine crisis, Putin accused Kiev authorities of being unwilling to implement a European-brokered peace deal agreed in February in Minsk and enter into dialogue with pro-Moscow rebel forces.
"The problem is that representatives of the current Kiev authorities do not even want to sit down to talks with them," Putin said. "And there is nothing we can do about it," he added, urging the West to prod Kiev into negotiating with rebels.
"We would like these agreements to be implemented," Putin said, stressing that Kiev should ensure autonomy for rebel-held territories and implement a law on municipal elections and a law on amnesty.
"The leaders of self-proclaimed republics have publicly said that under certain conditions — that is the implementation of these Minsk agreements — they are ready to consider the possibility of considering themselves part of Ukraine."
"I believe this position should be considered as a serious, good preliminary condition to start serious negotiations," he said, urging the European Union to provide "greater financial assistance" to Kiev.