President Vladimir Putin on Thursday said Russia had been forced to respond to NATO enlargement and that its annexation of Crimea, home to its Black Sea Fleet, was partly influenced by the Western military alliance's expansion into eastern Europe.
"When the infrastructure of a military bloc is moving toward our borders, it causes us some concerns and questions. We need to take some steps in response," Putin said in a televised call-in with the nation.
"Our decision on Crimea was partly due to ... considerations that if we do nothing, then at some point, guided by the same principles, NATO will drag Ukraine in and they will say: 'It doesn't have anything to do with you.'"
(Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk and Maria Kiselyova; Additional reporting by Polina Devitt; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)