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 hint at Ukraine’s ambitions.

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

President Putin has faced overwhelming criticism for using the memory of the war to promote his own political agenda and portray Russia as a besieged fortress.

President Putin in his piece published on Tuesday lauded Europeans for putting their differences aside after the end of the WWII to build a united Europe and expressed his frustration with what he sees as the West’s attempts to contain Russia following the demise of the Soviet Union.

President Putin’s article came out the day after Armin Laschet, the frontrunner to become Germany’s next chancellor, in an interview with the Financial Times called on the West to “establish a sensible relationship with Russia” and praised US. President Joe Biden 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 overt support for separatists in eastern Ukraine has damaged ties between Russia and the EU but President Putin in his piece blamed Nato’s westward expansion as “the main reason behind a surge in mutual distrust in Europe.”

“Many nations were forced to make a false choice: either you stay with the collective West or with Russia.”

President Putin reviews his troops 80 years after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union

Credit: Alamy Live News

Russia amassed an unusually high number of troops by the border with Ukraine this spring, 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.

President Putin in his Tuesday’s piece struck a reconciliatory note, apparently inspired by his meeting with President 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.

Mr Putin said on Tuesday that security and economic growth in Europe is possible only with the good will of all European nations including Russia that he described as a country that shares “a close cultural and historic bond with Europe.”

"Russia stands for restoring a comprehensive partnership with Europe… and we can’t afford to keep on dragging the baggage of frustrations, conflicts and mistakes with us," he said.

"This baggage doesn’t let us focus on resolving the most pressing issues. I’m convinced we all have to admit our mistakes and rectify them."

Despite coronavirus restrictions, President Putin on Tuesday led a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin wall to honour the memory of the fallen in the war.

President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday laid flowers to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow

Credit: Alexei Nikolsky/Sputnik via Kremlin Pool

The Russian leader described the anniversary of the Nazi invastion as the day that “reverberates with indignation and grief in the hearts of all generations, fills us with pain for the broken lives of millions of people.”

The Soviet Union is estimated to have lost 27 million people, more than half of them civilians, in the war.