Written by Staff Writer, CNN
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday denied that Russia was behind a dispute over the Russian-Belarusian border which has forced a five-hour closure of the NATO-member border.
Shortly after Putin addressed the Valdai club of international affairs think-tanks in Sochi, reports emerged that Moscow had sent a group of vehicles to the Ukraine border near the Polish city of Krzesiny as a show of force.
Speaking to reporters later on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “Russia has nothing to do with what is going on now,” after local media reported that a convoy had crossed the border into the Polish city of Poznan.
Despite looking to the future, Putin said Tuesday that he believed a threat of war remained in Europe despite a recent lull in tensions between the West and Russia, which had previously been stirred by the Ukraine crisis.
“Tensions between Russia and the West still exist,” he said, pointing to the recent Dutch nuclear vessel that accidentally fired a missile into the air over the weekend in the Netherlands.
Putin says need for ‘well-coordinated’ NATO response
Poland and other countries took the incident as a sign that Russia may be planning a military response to the crisis over Ukraine, a fear that has exacerbated in recent months as Russia has heavily intervened in the Syrian civil war.
“If the [armaments] are being transported with Russia planes then it is quite obvious that the purpose is to send a message,” said Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni earlier on Tuesday.
Putin admitted that Russia had intervened in Syria earlier this year to prop up President Bashar al-Assad, in comments translated by CNN, but insisted the move was “altogether accurate” and justified.
Putin’s comments were made during a discussion of international security threats at the Valdai Club, which is hosted annually by the Kremlin. The 24th club meeting was closed to the media.
Moscow-Warsaw border dispute ‘nothing new’
About five hours into its stopover, the convoy was sent back to Russia, Polish border police official Szymon Szajkowski told local radio station Poland Radio 1.
The incident came as Poland prepares to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the signing of a treaty between then-Soviet Union and Nazi Germany that first created the joint Soviet-Polish border and then the rest of Poland.
Earlier this month, Poland accused Russia of sending artillery to central Poland to threaten government buildings and warned of a risk of a new war.
Putin has made no secret of his resentment over a Soviet border treaty with Poland, which Moscow signed in 1972 after the country’s 1978 independence. Russia now claims the agreement should be ignored, saying it has been violated by an EU-initiated border study that has excluded Moscow from several disputed land formations.
Poland’s foreign minister, Jacek Czaputowicz, said a misunderstanding between NATO and Russia about what was happening on the border of the three nations concerned, and that the incident had “nothing to do with the Ukrainian issue.”
“We are in negotiations, where NATO is making most of the effort,” he told television station TVN24. “All other measures, including even the Russian measures, seem to be taking place without an agreement.”
CNN’s AnneClaire Stapleton contributed to this report.