Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused Australia of joining a new global “axis” with the United States and NATO that he said bears resemblance to the World War II alliance between Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and imperial Japan.
In the interview on Russian TV channel Rossiya-24 on Sunday night, Putin named Australia, New Zealand and South Korea as being in line to join a “global NATO” and referenced a defence agreement signed by Britain and Japan earlier this year.
“What is the United States doing? They are creating more and more alliances. That is why Western analysts … are talking about the West starting to build a new axis similar to the one created in the 1930s by the fascist regimes of Germany and Italy and militarist Japan,” he said.
Putin also insisted, days after hosting Chinese leader Xi Jinping in the Kremlin, that Russia and China are not creating a military alliance, saying the co-operation between their armed forces is “transparent”.
Putin and Xi professed friendship and pledged closer ties, including in the military sphere, during their March 20-21 summit, as Russia struggles to make battlefield gains in what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine.
“We are not creating any military alliance with China,” Putin said on state television. “Yes, we have co-operation in the sphere of military-technical interaction. We are not hiding this.
“Everything is transparent, there is nothing secret.”
China and Russia signed a “no limits” partnership accord in early 2022, just weeks before Putin sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine. Beijing has refrained from criticising Putin’s decision and has touted a peace plan for Ukraine. The West has dismissed its proposals as a ploy to buy Putin more time to rebuild his forces in Ukraine.
Washington has said recently that it fears Beijing could arm Russia, something China denies.
In his televised remarks, Putin dismissed suggestions that Moscow’s increased ties with Beijing in areas such as energy and finance meant that Russia was becoming overly dependent on China, saying these were the views of “jealous people”.
“For decades many have desired turning China against the Soviet Union and Russia, and vice versa,” he said. “We understand the world we live in. We really value our mutual relations and the level they have reached in recent years.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has visited Japan and South Korea this year, and stressed the importance of the Atlantic alliance working closely with partners in the Indo-Pacific region. He has also spoken of rising tensions between the West and China and urged more military support for Ukraine.
Putin has depicted Russia’s actions in Ukraine as a defensive pushback against an aggressive hostile West, drawing parallels with Moscow’s fight against invading Nazi German forces during World War II.
Kyiv and its Western allies dismiss such suggestions as absurd, saying Moscow is seeking to seize territory and cripple Ukraine’s ability to function as an independent state.
Ukraine says there can be no peace talks until all Russian forces have withdrawn from its territory. Russia says Ukraine must accept the loss of swathes of territory that Moscow claims to have annexed.
Putin’s comments came a day after he announced that Russia would station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, in an apparent warning to NATO over its military support for Ukraine.
In response, NATO castigated Vladimir Putin over what is one of Russia’s clearest nuclear signals since the start of its invasion of Ukraine 13 months ago, and Ukraine called for a meeting of the UN Security Council.
“Russia’s nuclear rhetoric is dangerous and irresponsible,” NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said on Sunday.
“NATO is vigilant and we are closely monitoring the situation. We have not seen any changes in Russia’s nuclear posture that would lead us to adjust our own.”
While Washington, played down concerns about Putin’s announcement, NATO said the Russian president’s comparison of the move to the US stationing its weapons in Europe was way off the mark.
“Russia’s reference to NATO’s nuclear sharing is totally misleading. NATO allies act with full respect of their international commitments,” Lungescu said. “Russia has consistently broken its arms control commitments.”
Oleksiy Danilov, a top security adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said Russia’s plan would destabilise Belarus, which he said had been taken hostage by Moscow.
Lithuania said on Sunday it would call for new sanctions against Moscow and Minsk in response to Russia’s plan.