Russia's Putin warns Ukraine over plans to join NATO

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Moscow, Jun 30 (UNI) In a bid to assert its authority in the Eurasian region and keeping NATO away from its borders, Russian Prime Minister Vladmir Putin strongly warned Ukraine, a former Soviet republic to desist from joining the coveted Western military alliance.

''Russia would transfer its space and hi-tech facilities to domestic soil, if the ex-Soviet republic enters the alliance,'' the Russian Prime Minister said.

In televised remarks on Saturday, following a meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in Moscow, Mr Putin said Ukraine would have to invest considerable funds to retool its arms industry to produce weapons according to NATO standards.

''Russia strongly opposes Ukraine's plans to join NATO, saying this move would jeopardise its security,'' Ria Novosti reported.

Ukraine's pro-Western leadership has been pursuing NATO membership since 2004 when President Viktor Yushchenko came to power. Ukraine failed to secure an agreement on a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP), a key step towards joining the alliance, at the organisation's summit in April, but was told the decision would be reviewed in December.

''A decision on Ukraine's entry into NATO would only be made after a nationwide referendum,'' the Ukrainian Prime Minister said.

Both the parties also discussed the status of the Russian Black Sea Fleet currently stationed in Ukraine's Crimean port of Sevastopol.

The Russian Black Sea Fleet currently uses a range of naval facilities on Ukraine's Crimean peninsula under an agreement signed in 1997. The Ukrainian President recently ruled not to extend lease terms for Russia's Navy beyond May 28, 2017.

Ms Tymoshenko said Ukraine would fulfill its obligations under the lease agreement that allows the Russian Navy to stay in Sevastopol through 2017.

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