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Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has used the anniversary of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union to lash out at Nato’s expansion in Europe in a clear message to Ukraine.

The Russian leader, in an opinion piece published by Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper on Tuesday, exactly 80 years after Nazi troops invaded the Soviet Union, criticised the expansion of Nato as threatening Russia’s security and fostering “Cold War-era dividing lines” in Europe.

Moscow has been rattled by the fact that former Soviet allies such as Poland and even ex-Soviet republics including Latvia have become members of the Euro-Atlantic military alliance since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Mr Putin lauded Europeans for putting their differences aside after the end of the Second World War and expressed his frustration with what he saw as the West’s attempts to contain Russia.

Mr Putin’s article came out the day after Armin Laschet, the frontrunner to become Germany’s next chancellor, gave an interview to the Financial Times calling on the West to “establish a sensible relationship with Russia” and praised Joe Biden, the US President, for reaching out to Mr Putin.

Russia’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy, which culminated in the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014 and the Kremlin’s support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, has damaged ties between Russia and the EU. However, Mr Putin blamed Nato’s westward expansion as “the main reason behind a surge in mutual distrust in Europe”.

Russia amassed an unusually high number of troops at the border with Ukraine this spring, which was seen as a threat of invasion, but Moscow said it was a response to Nato’s military drills in Europe.

Ukraine, which has lost more than 14,000 people in the armed conflict in the country’s east, has been pressing the West for a timeline for its possible accession to Nato, seeing it as the only way to ward off Russian aggression.

Mr Putin struck a conciliatory note, apparently inspired by his meeting with Mr Biden in Geneva last week when the two leaders agreed to focus on the few areas of cooperation including arms control that they share to overcome the crisis in their relationship.

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