Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to speaks to the media after his talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Minsk, Belarus, on Aug. 27, 2014
Alexander Zemlianichenko—AP
September 2, 2014 6:21 PM EDT

Reports emerged Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin said he could take control of Ukraine’s capital city in as little as two weeks, a remark that escalated already pitched tensions between Russia and the West in the lead-up to NATO’s summit in Wales.

Putin made the incendiary comment in a phone conversation with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, according to Barroso’s account, published by Italy’s La Repubblica on Monday.

Barroso said he asked Putin if Russian troops had crossed into eastern Ukraine, La Repubblica reports. “That is not the question,” Putin reportedly said. “But if I wanted to, I could take Kiev in two weeks.”

The Kremlin did not deny that Putin made the statement, but insisted it was taken out of context.

“Whether these words were said or not, in my viewpoint, the quote given is taken out of context, and it had an absolutely different meaning,” Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said, Interfax reports. Ushakov blasted Barroso for making public the content of what the aide said was intended to be a private conversation.

This latest saber rattling comes as NATO officials prepare for a summit at which the alliance is expected to discuss its role in shoring up defenses in Eastern Europe, a perennial irritant for the Kremlin made especially urgent amid ongoing clashes in eastern Ukraine.

[NYT]

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