Russia had asked for assurances that Ukraine would not join NATO, but the West turned it down
Ukraine has been in an impossible situation in recent months after Russian troops invaded the country.
Fighting and attacks have taken place on Ukrainian soil after Vladimir Putin’s men invaded the neighboring country.
The Russian president had previously said that one of the reasons for the push into the country was the threat to NATO if Ukraine joined the security alliance, with NATO weapons on Russia’s doorstep.
He had asked for confirmation that Ukraine would not join NATO, but his demands were rejected by the West.
Now, with conflict in the region, Ukraine’s NATO membership status is up in the air, with the defensive alliance understandably reluctant to intervene in direct conflict.
As the West seeks to defuse the situation with sanctions and other methods, there are questions about Ukraine’s desire to join NATO – is it still planning to join, and could it turn down the bid in hopes of peace?
Here’s everything you need to know about Ukraine’s NATO bid.
Why isn’t Ukraine in NATO?
Although NATO has a presence in Ukraine and Ukraine contributes to NATO missions, the country is still not officially a member.
At the inauguration of US President Joe Biden in 2020, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his first question to the new US leader was, “Mr. President, why are we not in NATO yet?”
Continued cooperation between Ukraine and NATO has placed Ukraine in a strong position to join the defense alliance and plans are already in place.
However, Ukraine, together with Georgia, initiated a formal process to launch a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) in 2008.
However, that plan was shelved after the 2010 elections, when President Viktor Yanukovych was elected leader of the former Soviet country.
President Yanukovych opposed Ukraine’s entry into the defense alliance, preferring that the country remain non-aligned.
The leader was forced to flee the country in February 2014 following the Euromaidan protests.
Demonstrations in Kyiv sparked civil unrest as citizens protested plans to tie the country closer to Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union rather than the European Union.
As a result of the ensuing conflict with Russia, the MAP request was shelved, with some experts believing the delay could be due to fears of Russian retaliation over the move or the West’s reluctance to get directly involved in the escalating conflict.
Does Ukraine want to join NATO?
Ukraine’s NATO membership plans were initially put on hold after the transitional government came to power, but this changed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Since then, the Ukrainian government has made the continuation of the MAP a priority of its leadership, while public support in Ukraine has also steadily increased since the annexation.
In June 2021, NATO leaders reiterated that Ukraine will eventually become a member through the MAP and said that Russia would not interfere with Ukraine’s bid to join the alliance.
However, Ukraine’s integration into the security alliance is a difficult situation as active conflicts persist within the country.
Technically, if Ukraine joined NATO during the war, Russia would attack a NATO target and therefore draw the 30 member states into a potential conflict.
Why doesn’t Russia want Ukraine to join NATO?
The issue remains a contentious one between Ukraine and Russia.
President Putin has repeatedly asked for assurances that the country will not join the NATO defense alliance after saying the West has broken a promise not to expand eastward.
The Russian leader has previously claimed that the United States had “deceived” the country and broken a promise made in 1990 by allowing states in Central and Eastern Europe to join NATO.
This includes countries that border Russia, such as Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.
More than 100,000 Russian troops were deployed along the Russia-Ukraine border in November 2021, with Russian officials saying NATO’s presence in the neighboring country posed “security threats”.
This comes amid claims that NATO was supplying arms to Ukraine to fight in the Russo-Ukrainian war in Crimea and Donbass, as well as building up NATO resources in nearby member states.
President Putin said his troops couldn’t retreat any further because of this, adding: “Do you think we’ll just stand by and stand by?”
Russia moved into the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk on February 21, 2022 as part of a “peacekeeping operation” after President Putin recognized the two republics’ independence.
Is Ukraine still planning to join NATO?
Russia issued an ultimatum to the West, demanding that Ukraine’s bid for the defense alliance be rejected in order to reduce troops.
The West rejected President Putin’s demands, stating that any independent state could join NATO as they had an “open door” policy.
Earlier, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said: “Only Ukraine and 30 NATO allies will decide when Ukraine is ready to join NATO. Russia has no veto power, Russia has no say, and Russia has no right to establish a sphere of influence to try and control its neighbors.”
Ukraine has spoken out on the status of its membership, with Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK, backtracking on comments that the country might consider backing down from an attempt to join.
Asked whether Ukraine could drop its bid to join NATO in order to de-escalate the situation with Russia, Mr Prystaiko was first quoted by the BBC as saying: “We could, especially if we are threatened like that, be blackmailed by it and being pushed into it.”
However, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said that the “ambassador’s words were taken out of context” and that “the prospect of joining NATO remains enshrined in the constitution”.
Mr Prystaiko added that while Ukraine could consider “many concessions” in negotiations with Russia, their attempt to join NATO was out of the question.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy confirmed that Ukraine still aims to join NATO as it is “enshrined in Ukrainian legislation and the Ukrainian Constitution”.