Ukraine's membership in NATO is a forbidden topic for the Alliance
Western countries are avoiding the "explosive" issue of Ukraine's accession to NATO, because they are afraid of a military conflict with the Russian Federation.
Ukraine's possible NATO membership is such an "explosive issue" that many NATO allies try not to even talk about it. When officials are forced to somehow comment on this, they give memorized, short and mechanical answers. About it says in a Politico publication.
The opinion of the author may not coincide with the opinion of the editors.
In September, Ukraine requested an accelerated process to join the military alliance, NATO publicly reaffirmed its open door policy but did not give a concrete answer. And last week, when NATO foreign ministers met, their final statement simply pointed to a vague 2008 promise that Ukraine would someday join the alliance. But there is no mention of Ukraine's recent request and any concrete steps towards membership or any timeline.
The reasons are manifold. NATO is split over how, when (and in some cases even if) Ukraine should join. The major capitals are also reluctant to provoke the Kremlin any further, knowing that Vladimir Putin is hypersensitive to NATO's eastward expansion. And most importantly, NATO membership legally requires allies to come to the aid of Ukraine in the event of an attack, a prospect that many will not talk about.
Although since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine in February of this year, Europe and the United States have overcome one taboo after another, transferring mountains of deadly military equipment to Kyiv, imposing once-unthinkable sanctions on Moscow, ditching Russian energy resources, the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO remains the third rail of international politics. .
Touching a problem can burn you
President of France Emmanuel Macron sparked outrage over the weekend by saying the West should consider security guarantees for Russia if it were to return to the negotiating table. The gesture angered Kyiv and appears to run counter to NATO's open door policy. And behind the scenes, Ukrainian officials themselves faced disgruntled colleagues after publicly calling for fast membership.
“Some very good friends of Ukraine are more afraid of a positive response to Ukraine's application for NATO membership than of providing Ukraine with the most advanced weapons. There are still many psychological barriers that we need to overcome. The idea of membership is one of them.”- said the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmitry Kuleba in a recent interview with POLITICO
"De facto" ally
Ukraine's leadership argues that, for all intents and purposes, the country is already a member of the Western military alliance and thus deserves a fast track to official NATO membership.
“We are de facto allies. De facto, we have already completed our path to NATO. De facto, we have already proven compatibility with the standards of the alliance. Ukraine is applying to do this de jure.”- said President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky in September, announcing an application to join NATO under the accelerated procedure.
The Ukrainian leader's statement took many of Kyiv's closest partners by surprise, and caused grumbling from some.
The overture threatened to thwart the plan that had essentially stopped the alliance's most powerful capitals: now arms, then discussion of membership. They believed that such an approach would deprive Moscow of an excuse to directly drag NATO into the conflict.
In a statement last week, the ministers pledged to step up political and practical assistance to Ukraine while avoiding specific plans for Kyiv's future status.
Ultimately, however, few allies doubt Ukraine's long-term membership prospects, at least in theory. The disagreement is more about how and when the question of Kyiv's membership should be decided.
A number of eastern allies advocate a closer political relationship between Ukraine and NATO and want a more concrete plan that will pave the way for membership.
«I think it's basically inevitable Lithuanian Foreign Minister said Gabrielius Landsbergis- that NATO must find a way to accept Ukraine.”
On the other hand, French President Emmanuel Macron wants to take Moscow's point of view into account.
“One of the most important things we have to consider,” as President Putin has always said, “is the fear of NATO coming right to its door and the deployment of weapons that could threaten Russia.” — сказал he to the French TV channel TF1 in an interview released on Saturday.
Most other allies essentially avoid the subject, not dismissing Ukraine's NATO dreams but echoing the carefully crafted line about focusing on the current war.
Here is the NATO Secretary General's version Jens Stoltenberg, proposed last week:
“The most urgent and urgent task is to ensure the predominance of Ukraine as a sovereign, independent democratic state in Europe”
And here is the opinion of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands Wopke Hoekstra:
"The task here is to make sure that the main thing remains the main thing - and this is helping Ukraine on the battlefield."
US Permanent Representative to NATO Julianne Smith repeated this idea in an interview:
“Now the focus is on practical support for Ukraine.”
Analysts say the fault line runs primarily between Western European capitals such as Berlin and Paris, who see membership as a hyper-sensitive issue to be avoided at the moment, and some eastern capitals who see Ukraine's entry as a goal for which the alliance can start working.
With the outbreak of war, this gap only "aggravated"said Ben Schreer, Executive Director for Europe at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“Some countries just don’t want to even talk about it because they think it could further harden Russia’s response.”, - he considers.
Ukrainian officials acknowledge that NATO membership is not inevitable, but they still want a gesture from the alliance.
“The ideal scenario would be, of course, a very simple offer from NATO: 'Okay, we have received your application, we are starting the review process.' That would already be an important achievement.”- said the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmitry Kuleba.
Smith, the US ambassador, said that Ukrainians are aware that they need to do more before they can become members.
In 2019, Ukraine formally adopted a constitutional amendment that obliges it to seek NATO membership. But while the country has made some reforms over the past few years, experts and partner governments say Ukraine needs to do more to integrate Kyiv into Western institutions.
"There's still a lot of work to be done, I don't think it's a mystery" Smith said.
As a temporary solution, Kyiv has presented what it calls a pragmatic offer for Western countries to help defend Ukraine.
“Russia was able to start this war precisely because Ukraine remained in the gray zone between the Euro-Atlantic world and Russian imperialism,” Zelenskiy said when presenting a 10-point peace plan in November.
“So, how can we prevent a repeat of such Russian aggression against us? We need effective security guarantees.”he said, calling for an international conference to sign the so-called "Kyiv agreement on security ” - a new set of security guarantees for Ukraine.
But it remains unclear whether Ukraine's Western partners will be willing to provide any legally binding guarantees - or whether anything other than NATO's Article 5 Article 5 will prove to be a sufficient deterrent in the future.
"Some of these countries Schreer of IISS said, will be very opposed. Any written guarantee of security, he noted, “from their point of view, would probably provoke a strong reaction from Russia, but at the same time would make them part of this conflict.”
A Ukrainian victory could, of course, change the calculus
“If Ukraine gets stuck in a dead end, there will be no NATO membership”, - said Max Bergmann, Director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “But if she takes back her territory and accepts her borders – whatever those borders are, including Crimea or not, because that’s a fundamental issue for Ukraine – then I think things can go very fast.”
When asked if his Western partners were disappointed, Kuleba answered bluntly: "I know them too well to be upset about them - they are good friends," he said. “It would have been almost impossible for us to withstand Russian pressure and win on the battlefield without them.”
while he added that "psychological barriers" West needs "overcome by changing the optics." According to him, Kyiv's partners "must start seeing Ukraine's membership as an opportunity, not a threat."
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