Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Ukraine’s pursuit of NATO membership posed a danger to European security and that the West was using Kiev’s bid to join the Atlantic alliance as a way to fuel confrontation between Russia and Ukraine.
The Kiev parliament’s renunciation of Ukraine’s neutral status this week as a step toward joining NATO has outraged Moscow and deepened the worst confrontation between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.
Lavrov is the latest Russian official to speak out against the Kiev’s bid in recent days, and who have made clear Russia would see the NATO membership of such a strategic former Soviet republic with a long common border as a direct military threat.
“There are a few Western countries that want to maintain the crisis in Ukraine and to maintain and boost the confrontation between Ukraine and Russia, including through provocative efforts toward membership in the Atlantic alliance,” he said.
“The very idea of Ukraine’s efforts to join NATO are dangerous, not only for Ukrainian people, because there is no unity over that issue, it is dangerous for European security,” he said, speaking on state television.
NATO boosted its military presence in eastern Europe this year, saying it has evidence Russia orchestrated and armed a pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine that followed the overthrow of a Kremlin-backed president in Kiev.
Moscow denies supporting the rebellion, and says it is currently trying, along with Kiev and the rebels, to find a political solutions to the crisis in eastern Ukraine.
Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov also said that unidentified NATO members had pushed Ukraine to make the move in a bid to turn it into a “forward line for confronting Russia.”
“Under the slogan of a ‘Russian threat,’ NATO is expanding its military potential in the Baltics, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania,” Antonov said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies.
He added that NATO has doubled the number of its military flights near Russia’s borders to about 3,000 this year. He said Russia was particularly concerned about pilots from non-nuclear NATO members, like Poland, being trained for nuclear weapons.
NATO, in its turn, has accused Russia of putting civilian flights at risk by boosting the number of its military air patrols and having its planes fly with their transponders switched off.
The alliance has halted cooperation with Russia over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and its support for a pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine. Amid the tensions, NATO has moved to reassure its members in eastern Europe by stepping up air patrols over the Baltic Sea and rotating military units in and out of countries like Poland and the Baltic republics.
Antonov also said that Russia plans to expand military cooperation with China, Egypt and Latin American countries. In particular, Moscow is discussing provisions for its navy ships to use ports in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela for replenishing supplies and undergoing maintenance.