US has opened door to Ukraine joining NATO military bloc, Putin says, warning West could station rockets ‘under Russia's nose’

The Pentagon chief’s recent visit to Kiev must be seen as a precursor to Ukraine joining NATO, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed, saying the bloc could use training as a pretext to station rockets in the country.

Speaking to delegates at the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi on Thursday, Putin said that a trip earlier this week by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin could “open the door” for the Eastern European nation to become a member of the pact.

However, the president went on, the US-led bloc does not even need to admit Ukraine in order to step up its presence on the two countries’ shared border.

“Formal membership in NATO ultimately may not happen, but the military development of the territory is already underway,” Putin said. “And this really poses a threat to the Russian Federation.”

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According to him, it is conceivable that NATO could station military hardware like missiles close to Russia under the guise of training centers, rapidly destabilizing the situation.

“Tomorrow, rockets could appear near Kharkov, what are we going to do about it? It’s not us placing our missiles there, it’s them shoving theirs under our nose,” he added.

Putin went on to say that NATO had taken advantage of the reunification of Germany in 1990 to stage a power grab. “Everyone from all sides said that after the unification, in no circumstances would NATO infrastructure move toward the East, Russia should have been able to at least rely on that. That’s what they said, there were public statements. But in practice? They lied...and then they expanded it once, and then they expanded it again,” he argued.

“Let's see what will happen on the domestic political scene of Ukraine in the near future,” the president said, arguing that Kiev is “deadlocked” by competing interests and cracking down on opponents of the government, like opposition leader Viktor Medvedchuk.

“They are trying to prosecute Medvedchuk for high treason,” he added. “Why? Did he steal secrets and pass them on secretly? No - it is for his public political position aimed at stabilizing the situation in the country and building relations with its neighbors, which is important for Ukraine itself.”

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Medvedchuk, the leader of the Opposition Platform - For Life is currently under house arrest while prosecutors prepare a case against him for “treason and aiding terrorism.” His party, the second largest in the country’s parliament, has been critical of Ukraine’s turn toward the West since 2014 and called for efforts to mend ties with Moscow.

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