Kremlin says Ukraine's NATO ambitions remain a threat to Russia

FILE PHOTO: Banners displaying the NATO logo are placed at the entrance of new NATO headquarters during the move to the new building

MOSCOW (Reuters) -The Kremlin said on Wednesday that Ukraine's ongoing ambitions to join the Western NATO military alliance presented a threat to Russia's security and highlighted the necessity for Russia to conduct what it calls a "special military operation" in Ukraine.

Moscow was responding to the publication of a draft set of security guarantees by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's office on Tuesday that outlined Ukraine's "aspiration to join NATO and benefit from its mutual defence arrangements".

In a conference call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia viewed the document negatively, saying the idea of Ukraine joining NATO was "the main threat to Russia":

"It once again emphasises the relevance and urgent need for us to ensure our own security and our own national interests."

Before Russia sent its armed forces into Ukraine in February, Moscow was demanding legally binding guarantees that Ukraine would never be admitted to the U.S.-led transatlantic defence alliance.

Kyiv and the West say Moscow used this as a pretext, among others, to launch a pre-planned military campaign against Ukraine.

The nine-page document https://www.president.gov.ua/en/news/glavi-derzhavi-prezentuvali-paket-rekomendacij-shodo-bezpeko-77737 published on Tuesday, a package of recommendations on "international security guarantees for Ukraine", was prepared by former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Andriy Yermak, the head of Zelenskiy's presidential administration.

On Tuesday, Zelenskiy said the package - which called for Western countries to provide "political, financial, military and diplomatic resources" to boost Kyiv's ability to defend itself in the years before it joins the NATO alliance - should form the basis of a new security settlement for Ukraine.

The proposal triggered outrage in Moscow, which saw it as reinforcing Kyiv's determination to join NATO and a strategy that could pave the way for the deployment of more Western weaponry near its borders.

Peskov on Wednesday also criticised Kyiv's use of Western support to guarantee its security, saying Zelenskiy could boost Ukraine's security by giving in to unspecified Russian demands right away.

"The leadership of Ukraine must take actions that eliminate the threat to Russia, and they know perfectly well what those actions must be," he said, without providing details.

(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Tomasz Janowski)