Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that the Ukrainian army has been used by NATO as a deterrent against Russia.

“It is, in essence, […] not an army anymore but a foreign legion, a NATO-controlled foreign legion, which is not serving to protect Ukraine’s national interests,” Putin said at a meeting with university students in St. Petersburg.

“They are pursuing other goals linked with attaining geopolitical goals of deterring Russia contrary to the interests of the Ukrainian people,” Putin said.

On December 23, the Ukrainian authorities canceled the country’s non-aligned status, confirming that Kiev was renewing its intention to join NATO.

Despite Kiev’s aspirations to form part of the alliance, NATO officials have repeatedly stressed that the country needs to implement a wide range of reforms before pursuing bloc membership.

In December, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said that Ukraine’s accession to NATO would bring Russia’s relations with the bloc to a complete collapse.

Commenting on the Ukraine crisis, US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said Monday that Washington had “more tools” to increase pressure on Moscow.

“I think we have seen that the sanctions work to create real stress in the economy. We have more tools. I am not today going to enumerate what the tools are but we have more tools,” he said during a press conference in Brussels.

Kiev is refusing to search for peaceful solution in eastern Ukraine standoff and have used a brief ceasefire to regroup its forces, the Russian president said.

“Unfortunately, the Kiev authorities refuse to chose a peaceful path [in the Ukrainian conflict] through the use of political means,” Putin said.

“They used a brief ceasefire only to regroup their forces, and started military operation again,” the president said.

Many in Ukraine have already realized that the country is caught in a civil war that had taken lives of thousands of people.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government has introduced an “emergency situation” in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk heightening overall readiness across the nation.

The fighting between government forces and independence supporters in southeastern Ukraine’s Donbas region has intensified in recent weeks, driving up the civilian death toll. On January 13, the shelling of a bus in the Donetsk Region town of Volnovakha killed 13 civilians. Last week, at least eight Donetsk residents were killed by rocket fire while waiting at a transit stop for a trolleybus.

Mariupol, a major southeastern Ukraine port city, came under fire on January 24, leaving 30 people dead and over 90 wounded, according to Ukrainian authorities. Kiev and pro-independence forces are blaming each other for the killings.


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