(QHA) -

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has issued a new warning to Ukraine to stay out of NATO.

In an article for a Serbian magazine that was posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry website on January 28, Lavrov said that "to prevent further splits in Ukraine, it is of fundamental importance that it retain its nonaligned status.

Last month, Ukraine scrapped a law that had declared it neutral and prevented it from joining any military alliance.

The law had been passed in 2010 during the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted last February after months of protests over his decision to reject tighter ties with the EU and move closer to Moscow instead.

Kyiv and NATO accuse Russia of providing direct military support to pro-Russian separatists in a conflict that has killed more than 5,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April.

President Petro Poroshenko predicted last month that Ukraine would be ready to join NATO in 5-6 years and suggested a referendum would be held on the issue at that time.