Russia has 'no right' to demand Ukraine be excluded from Nato, says alliance chief

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  • Jens Stoltenberg
    Jens Stoltenberg
    Secretary-General of NATO
  • Vladimir Putin
    Vladimir Putin
    President of Russia
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a press conference at the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Riga, Latvia - AFP
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a press conference at the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Riga, Latvia - AFP

Russia has “no right” to demand Ukraine be permanently excluded from Nato, the head of the alliance said on Wednesday, as President Vladimir Putin suggested he would insist on such a move as a guarantee of peace.

The comments by Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato secretary general, came as Nato foreign ministers met in Latvia, in part to discuss Russian troop build-up near the Ukrainian border that has sparked fears of an imminent invasion.

“It’s Ukraine and 30 Nato allies that decide when Ukraine is ready to join Nato,” he said.

“Russia has no veto, Russia has no say and Russia has no right to establish a sphere of influence, trying to control their neighbours. This idea that Nato’s support to sovereign nations is a provocation is just wrong.”

The comments come after weeks of speculation that Moscow had sent an estimated 100,000 troops towards the border with Ukraine in order to pressure the West into guaranteeing Kyiv would never be allowed to join Nato.

“In our dialogue with the United States and its allies we will insist on practical agreements that will rule out any further eastward expansion of Nato as well as deploying weaponry near our territory that might threaten us,” Mr Putin said on Wednesday.

He insisted that Russia needed “legal security guarantees” rather than verbal assurances, arguing that Nato had made promises to Russia before “and did the opposite.”

Kremlin adviser Fyodor Lukyanov last month suggested Russia would invade Ukraine, in a repeat of its 2014 annexation of Crimea, if such conditions were not met.

The foreign minister also raised concern about a build-up of Ukrainian government troops near the front line with Russian-backed separatists in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.

Maria Zakharova, the ministry’s spokeswoman, estimated the number of government troops in the area at 125,000.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the Ukrainian president, in his annual address to parliament on Wednesday said the time had come to address the Kremlin directly over a conflict in the east of the country that has been simmering since 2014.

“For the past eight years we have been scared to admit to ourselves that we will not be able to stop the war without direct talks with Russia - along with a capable Ukrainian army."

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