Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a television interview broadcast Saturday that NATO enlargement has not necessarily improved world security and warned bringing Ukraine into the alliance could pose problems. Ukrainian officials said they want their country to eventually join NATO but Putin said Russia will not keep sensitive weapons in Ukraine if the alliance has a military presence there.
Russia's current co-operation with its southern neighbour is "enormous," Putin said in the interview with France-3 recorded Friday.
But "if there were a NATO military presence in Ukraine, I wouldn't maintain our latest technologies and our sensitive armaments."
"Ukraine could have problems. I say this frankly," Putin said through a translator.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko last month set joining NATO and the European Union as key goals and Putin was likely reacting to the new push by Ukraine that would move it farther out of Moscow's sphere of influence.
In the interview, he cited NATO's decision to admit the Baltic states to the alliance last year as a move that does not enhance security in the world.
"The fact that NATO exercises a great influence on the Ukraine or Georgia does not indispose us," Putin was quoted saying by the translator.
"On the other hand, all enlargement of NATO does not (necessarily) improve security in the world."
"I don't see in what way enlarging to our Baltic neighbours, for instance, can improve the security of the world."
The Baltic states abruptly became a subject of discontent between Russia and the United States after President George W. Bush decided to bracket his visit to Moscow for Monday's Second World War commemoration with trips to Latvia and Georgia, which is in the Caucasus.
Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga is the only Baltic leader to have accepted an invitation to attend the commemoration in Moscow. The leaders of Estonia and Lithuania said they could not go because Russia has refused to acknowledge five decades of Soviet domination of the Baltics following the war.
Putin, writing in a French newspaper Saturday, reiterated Russia will not answer the demands of Baltic states to repent for years of Soviet domination.
"Our Baltic neighbours...continue to demand a sort of 'repentance' by Russia," Putin wrote in the conservative paper Le Figaro.
"I would like to underscore in this regard that such pretensions are useless," Putin wrote.
He suggested in 1989 the Supreme Soviet had already made amends, giving a "judicial and moral appreciation" of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany that led to the Soviet role in the Baltics.
Moscow insists the three Baltic states willingly joined the Soviet Union on the basis of the pact. Putin said Friday the 1989 resolution criticized the pact as "a personal decision by (Soviet leader Josef) Stalin that contradicted the interests of the Soviet people."
Putin suggested the Baltic states are using their complaint as a smoke screen "to justify a discriminatory, reprehensible policy of governments toward a considerable part of their own Russian-speaking population, to mask the shame of past collaboration."
Putin was referring to what Russia says is discrimination against Russian-speakers today in Baltic countries and to collaboration by the Baltic states with the Nazi occupation.