(Adds details, background)
MOSCOW, April 1 (Reuters) - Russia warned Ukraine against integration with NATO on Tuesday, saying Kiev’s previous attempts to move closer to the bloc had strained ties with Russia and caused problems between Moscow and the defence alliance.
“(Past attempts) led to a freezing of Russian-Ukrainian political contacts, a headache between NATO and Russia and ... to a division in Ukrainian society,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said as NATO foreign ministers gathered for a meeting in Brussels.
It warned that future economic ties between Moscow and Kiev “will largely depend on the actions Ukraine takes in its foreign policy”.
The statement underscored Russia’s sensitivity to contacts between Moscow’s former Cold War enemy NATO and Ukraine, with whom Russia’s relations have deteriorated since the removal of Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovich as president on Feb. 22.
Moscow sees Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, as part of its traditional sphere of influence and wants a neutrality clause included in Ukraine’s constitution to prevent it joining NATO.
Ukraine pursued NATO membership during President Viktor Yushchenko’s rule from 2005 until 2010. The Kremlin has sought, where possible, to keep buffer states between Russia and NATO. (Reporting by Thomas Grove, Editing by Timothy Heritage)