Vladimir Putin uses 80th anniversary of Nazi invasion to lash out at Nato

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Russian President Vladimir Putin lays flowers to mark 80th anniversary of German invasion into the Soviet Union - Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
Russian President Vladimir Putin lays flowers to mark 80th anniversary of German invasion into the Soviet Union - Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has used the anniversary of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union to lash out at Nato’s expansion in Europe in a clear message to Ukraine.

The Russian leader, in an opinion piece published by Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper on Tuesday, exactly 80 years after Nazi troops invaded the Soviet Union, criticised the expansion of Nato as threatening Russia’s security and fostering “Cold War-era dividing lines” in Europe.

Moscow has been rattled by the fact that former Soviet allies such as Poland and even ex-Soviet republics including Latvia have become members of the Euro-Atlantic military alliance since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Mr Putin lauded Europeans for putting their differences aside after the end of the Second World War and expressed his frustration with what he saw as the West’s attempts to contain Russia.

Mr Putin’s article came out the day after Armin Laschet, the frontrunner to become Germany’s next chancellor, gave an interview to the Financial Times calling on the West to “establish a sensible relationship with Russia” and praised Joe Biden, the US President, for reaching out to Mr Putin.

Russia’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy, which culminated in the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014 and the Kremlin’s support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, has damaged ties between Russia and the EU. However, Mr Putin blamed Nato’s westward expansion as “the main reason behind a surge in mutual distrust in Europe”.

Putin attends the flower-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier - ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images
Putin attends the flower-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier - ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

Russia amassed an unusually high number of troops at the border with Ukraine this spring, which was seen as a threat of invasion, but Moscow said it was a response to Nato’s military drills in Europe.

Ukraine, which has lost more than 14,000 people in the armed conflict in the country’s east, has been pressing the West for a timeline for its possible accession to Nato, seeing it as the only way to ward off Russian aggression.

Mr Putin struck a conciliatory note, apparently inspired by his meeting with Mr Biden in Geneva last week when the two leaders agreed to focus on the few areas of cooperation including arms control that they share to overcome the crisis in their relationship.

Mr Putin insisted that security and economic growth in Europe is possible only if all European nations including Russia - which he described as a country that shares “a close cultural and historic bond with Europe” - pull together.

"Russia stands for restoring a comprehensive partnership with Europe... and we can't afford to keep on dragging the baggage of frustrations, conflicts and mistakes with us,” he said.

“I'm convinced we all have to admit our mistakes and rectify them."

Despite coronavirus restrictions, Mr Putin on Tuesday led a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin wall to honour the memory of the fallen in the war which killed 27 million people in the Soviet Union.

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