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The announcement comes a week after U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said that third countries do not have the right to veto Ukraine's joining NATO, and reiterating Washington's support for Ukraine's aspirations.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin said that NATO's military presence in Ukraine poses a real threat to Russia. "The military development of the territory [of Ukraine] is already underway, and this really poses a threat to Russia. We are aware of this," Putin said at a meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club.
Putin added that the Pentagon chief Austin has effectively paved the way for Ukraine to join the alliance. "The Secretary of Defense has arrived, in fact, opening the doors for Ukraine to NATO; in fact, his statement should and can be interpreted in this way," Putin said at the meeting.
At the same time, this last Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry's spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Moscow took notice of the "aggressive Russo phobic" statements made during the visit of U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko qualified Ukraine's potential NATO entry as an extremely dangerous step, one that would bring a reaction from Moscow. The Kremlin has repeatedly said that any expansion of NATO military installations in Ukraine would cross its "red lines."
Ukraine first applied to join a NATO Membership Action Plan in 2008 and has been moving towards its goal to join the alliance since then. NATO leaders have repeatedly said that Ukraine would become a NATO member state as soon as it carries out the requisite domestic reforms to meet specific Euro-Atlantic standards.
In 2018, the parliament of Ukraine approved a package of amendments to the constitution, putting the country's membership of NATO and the EU among its key targets for years to come.