Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is "opening doors for Ukraine" commenting on Washington's support for Ukraine's aspiration to join the alliance.
In his address to the plenary session of the 18th annual meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi on Thursday, Putin said that the military presence of NATO in Ukraine poses a "threat" to Russia.
"This really creates a threat to the Russian Federation, we are aware of this," Putin said.
The remarks came two days after the United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin voiced Washington's support for Ukraine's aspiration to join the trans-Atlantic alliance, adding that no third country could veto NATO’s membership decisions.
Commenting on Austin's remarks, Putin went on to say that they are practically opening the doors to NATO for Ukraine. "In fact, his statements should and can be interpreted exactly this way," he said.
During his brief visit to Kyiv, Austin said that Ukraine had "the right to decide its own future foreign policy," which it should do "without any outside interference."
In June, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged NATO members to speed up the country's entry into the alliance after a massive buildup of Russian troops near Ukraine’s border. For two weeks, more than 10,000 servicemen, 1,200 units of equipment, as well as 40 warships were positioned in occupied Crimea, in what Russia said was a "part of a snap training exercise."
Tensions between Russia and the US-led alliance have grown in the past few months. This week Moscow announced its decision to suspend its diplomatic mission to NATO in retaliation for the expulsion of eight Russian diplomats from the alliance’s Brussels headquarters for the alleged spying. In addition, the US-led military alliance halved the size of Russia's team at its headquarters from 20 to 10.