Russian President Vladimir Putin has called Ukraine’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) dangerous for Russia.
In his address to the plenary session of the 18th annual meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi on Thursday, President Putin asserted that “Kyiv’s formal NATO membership may not take place, but development military territory is already underway ”.
“This really creates a threat for the Russian Federation, we are aware of that”, TASS Putin quoted in response to a question about the deployment of NATO military infrastructure in Ukraine.
The remarks came two days after US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin voiced Washington’s support for Ukraine’s aspiration to join the transatlantic alliance, adding that no third country could veto decisions to join NATO. During his brief visit to Kiev, Austin said Ukraine had “the right to decide its own future foreign policy”, which it should do “without any outside interference”.
Commenting on Austin’s comments, Putin went on to say that they were virtually opening NATO’s doors to Ukraine.
“In fact, his statements must and can be interpreted exactly that way,” Putin said.
The Kremlin has long opposed Ukraine’s candidacy for NATO, arguing that it will only exacerbate the situation. Russia has long criticized the deployment of NATO troops in Eastern Europe, right up to Russia’s borders, which threatens its stability and could force Moscow to take additional measures to ensure its security.
Ukraine has tried to join the Western military bloc in the hope of securing protection against what Kiev calls Russian aggression. In June, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged NATO members to speed up the country’s entry into the alliance after a massive build-up of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border. Russia did not deny the troop movements but insisted that Moscow had no intention of threatening Ukraine. For two weeks, more than 10,000 military personnel, 1,200 pieces of equipment, as well as 40 warships were positioned in Crimea, in what Russia said was part of an instant training exercise.
Ukrainian authorities wait the country to join the military alliance by 2030.
Although two former Soviet republics had deep cultural, economic and political ties, Kiev and Moscow have been at odds since the 2014 crisis in the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine. Ukraine accuses Russia of annexing the Crimean peninsula which extends to the Black Sea. The Moscow-backed referendum held in March of the same year reportedly revealed that more than 90% of Crimean residents wanted the peninsula to be under Russian control. However, the vote was declared illegitimate by Ukraine, Western countries and the United Nations.
Russia has also been accused of fueling conflict in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Lugansk regions and of supporting separatist regimes with arms and troops. Moscow, however, has repeatedly denied these allegations.
The conflict that has been brewing for seven years in eastern Ukraine has so far claimed the lives of some 14,000 people and left up to 40,000 injured, according to the Kiev statement. estimates.
Meanwhile, tensions between Russia and the US-led alliance have grown in recent months. This week Moscow announcement his decision to suspend his diplomatic mission to NATO in retaliation for the expulsion of eight Russian diplomats from the alliance’s Brussels headquarters for alleged espionage. In addition, the US-led military alliance halved the size of the Russian team at its headquarters from 20 to 10.