NATO`s military expansion towards Russia`s borders is a throwback to the Cold War that only serves to cause antagonism, Russia`s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

In an usually tough attack on the alliance, Lavrov told a news conference there was no security justification for the enlargement and he warned ex-Soviet states they could hurt their ties with Russia if they joined NATO.

Russia has watched uneasily as former Warsaw Pact states joined NATO since the end of the Cold War, and it expressed displeasure after ex-Soviet Ukraine last week applied to NATO to take the first steps toward membership.

"We consider that the NATO policy of open doors (to new members) is a policy inherited from the Cold War," Lavrov said.

"We are convinced that the geographical enlargement of NATO was not seriously motivated by security ... It will not lead to a single security space, on the contrary it will lead to fragmentation and new dividing lines."

Russia has expressed opposition to NATO enlargement for over a decade but Lavrov`s comments were unusually toughly-worded. He returned to the subject several times during the 90-minute news conference.

"We see how the new members are being absorbed (into NATO) in the military sense. There is intensive military patrolling, opening of airfields and military bases," said Lavrov.

"We hear that NATO enlargement is not directed against Russia ... (19th century German Chancellor Otto von) Bismarck said that in politics, especially in military affairs, you have to judge not intentions but potential. And the potential, the military spending, is increasing."

"Apart from the military aspect, the theme of enlarging NATO ... antagonises relations between countries."

Ukraine`s Western-leaning leadership this month wrote to NATO asking it to accept the country into the Membership Action Plan, a step toward accession.

"That is a very serious topic and future cooperation between Russia and Ukraine depends to a large extent on how it develops," Lavrov said.

Lavrov also said some new NATO member states were "trying to rewrite history (and) making heroes of the Nazis".

That appeared to be a reference to the Baltic states, where veterans who during World War Two fought alongside the German army against the Soviet Union march annually to commemorate their dead comrades.

Reuters, writing by James Kilner and Christian Lowe; Editing by Ibon Villelabeitia