Vladimir Putin Blasts NATO Expansion as 'Relic of the Cold War' in Op-Ed

Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Russian soldiers who fought in World War II and criticized NATO's expansion in an op-ed published Tuesday by a German weekly.

"We hoped that the end of the Cold War would be a common victory for Europe," Putin wrote in Die Zeit. "But a different approach has prevailed based on the expansion of NATO, a relic of the Cold War. Fourteen new countries, including the former Soviet Union republics, joined the organization, effectively dashing hopes for a continent without dividing lines."

He added that NATO's efforts to embrace former Soviet nations in Central and Eastern Europe were responsible for increasing tensions and degrading security.

"The whole system of European security has now degraded significantly," Putin said. "Tensions are rising, and the risks of a new arms race are becoming real."

Putin Russia Soldier
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets high-ranking officers during the wreath-laying ceremony Tuesday at the Unknown Soldier's Tomb near the Kremlin. On Tuesday, Russians are marking the anniversary of Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

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Moscow saw NATO's expansion as a threat to its security, and Russia-West ties sank to post-Cold War lows after Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula that followed the ouster of the Moscow-friendly Ukrainian president.

Putin insisted that prosperity and security in Europe could only be achieved through joint efforts and noted that "Russia is in favour of restoring a comprehensive partnership with Europe."

"We simply cannot afford to carry the burden of past misunderstandings, hard feelings, conflicts, and mistakes," he said. "Our common and indisputable goal is to ensure security on the continent without dividing lines, a common space for equitable cooperation and inclusive development for the prosperity of Europe and the world as a whole."

Putin also marked the 80th anniversary of the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow.

The Nazis invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, and the country lost a staggering 27 million people in what it calls the Great Patriotic War. The enormous suffering and sacrifice have left a deep scar in the national psyche, and the Victory Day marking the end of World War II in Europe that is celebrated in Russia on May 9 is the nation's most important secular holiday.

"The day of June 22 still evokes anger and sorrow in the hearts of all generations, causing pain for the destroyed lives of millions of people," Putin said in a speech at the Unknown Soldier's Tomb at the Kremlin wall. "Those trials, those terrible years, are literally imprinted into our memory."

The invading Nazi forces quickly overran the western part of the Soviet Union and came as close as 30 kilometers (less than 19 miles) to Moscow. But the Red Army rebounded and routed the Nazis near the capital, dealt them a crushing defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943 and then drove them back across Europe all the way to Berlin.

The Kremlin has been anxious to see international recognition of the nation's wartime sacrifices and its role in defeating the Nazis.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin lays flowers at the eternal flame in memory of those killed during World War II at Moscow's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Tuesday. Alexei Nikolsky/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP