Why does Russia want to block Ukraine from joining Nato?

Tensions escalated along Russia’s border with Ukraine on Thursday as Vladimir Putin announced plans to conduct a “special military operation” in eastern Ukraine, confirming fears that he has been amassing troops there since December.

Soon after his announcement, gunfire and explosions could be heard in at least five places in Ukraine or near the Russian border, including the capital Kiev. After the strikes began, Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said Mr Putin had “just launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine” and called it a “war of aggression”.

Mr Putin said on Thursday that the situation required Russia to take decisive, swift action, and added that Moscow planned to carry out the “demilitarisation and de-Nazification” of Ukraine. He promised to put an end to eight years of war in eastern Ukraine, where Kiev government forces have been battling Russian-backed separatists.

However, he had initially denied any intention of invading the neighbouring state and had presented the West with a series of demands, including an end to the eastern expansion of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) membership to ex-Soviet states and the curtailment of US and alliance military activity on Russia’s doorstep.

Regional tensions were drastically ramped up on Monday when Mr Putin and his security council moved to formally recognise two eastern Ukrainian regions held by pro-Russian separatist groups as independent states, giving Russia a pretext to send…

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