Russia`s defense minister warned Thursday that Ukraine`s accession to NATO would strain bilateral relations with Russia, according to RIA Novosti.

      Sergei Ivanov, currently in Kiev for a session of the security subcommittee of the Russian-Ukrainian interstate commission, told journalists Ukraine has a sovereign right to join the Western security alliance, but that "the consequences of this move will have a negative impact on bilateral relations."

      "This move will affect our relations whether we want it or not," he said.

      Ukraine`s leadership has committed itself through a national unity pact to pursue integration with NATO, but Russia`s top defense officials have repeatedly voiced concern over NATO`s ongoing eastward expansion.

      As well as being uneasy about the opening of NATO bases on the territory of Russia`s former Soviet allies in the Baltic Region and Central Asia, Moscow strongly opposes Georgia and Ukraine`s drive to join the Western military alliance.

      The chief of the General Staff of Russia`s armed forces, Yury Balueyvsky, said earlier that NATO`s policy remains unchanged, despite changes in the international situation.

      "We are concerned that these countries became a `gray zone` after joining NATO, as they are no longer subjected to the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty," Baluyevsky said.

      The CFE treaty establishes limits on military hardware and troop numbers for all countries from the Atlantic to the Urals, and aims to establish a military balance on the European continent.