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Russia army vows steps if Georgia and Ukraine join NATO

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will take military and other steps along its borders if ex-Soviet Ukraine and Georgia join NATO, Russian news agencies quoted the armed forces’ chief of staff as saying on Friday.

Russian General Yuri Baluyevsky speaks during a news conference in Moscow in a December 2007 photo. Russia will take military and other steps along its borders if ex-Soviet Ukraine and Georgia join NATO, Russian news agencies quoted the armed forces' chief of staff as saying on Friday. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

“Russia will take steps aimed at ensuring its interests along its borders,” the agencies quoted General Yuri Baluyevsky as saying. “These will not only be military steps, but also steps of a different nature,” he said, without giving details.

Russia is opposed to NATO plans to grant membership to ex-Soviet Ukraine and Georgia, saying such a move would pose a direct threat to its security and endanger the fragile balance of forces in Europe.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier this week that Moscow will do everything it can to prevent the two countries, run by pro-Western governments, from becoming NATO members.

Maka Gigauri, a spokeswoman for Georgia’s foreign ministry, said Baluyevsky’s words were “a demonstration of open aggression against Georgia.”

“This is why we, Ukraine and Georgia, want to become NATO members. Such attempts by Russia to prevent Georgia and Ukraine from becoming NATO members will prompt an appropriate reaction from the leaders of NATO member states.”

Ukrainian officials were not immediately available for comment.

President Vladimir Putin has said that if NATO military installations ever appear in Ukraine, Moscow would have to target its missiles at the country.

At a summit in Bucharest this month, NATO members turned down requests from Georgia and Ukraine to be granted a Membership Action Plan, which would have set them on the road to membership.

But under pressure from Washington, one of the strongest advocates of enlargement in the alliance, NATO gave a commitment that the two countries would be allowed to join eventually.

Asked to respond to the Russian general’s comments, a NATO spokeswoman in Brussels said any European democracy could apply for membership of the alliance. “This is nothing new and no third country or party has a right to veto,” she said.

“In Bucharest, NATO heads of state and government decided Georgia and Ukraine would not be granted Membership Action Plans at this stage, but membership of those two countries is not a matter of if but when.”

Russian news agencies quoted Baluyevsky as telling reporters that it was premature to talk about Georgia and Ukraine joining NATO any time soon. “This is not the end of the day,” he said. “We will live and see.”

Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Brussels and Niko Mchedlishvili in Tbilisi; Writing by Oleg Shchedrov and Christian Lowe; Editing by Charles Dick