No Surprise Here—NATO Not Letting Ukraine Join
Nobody wants total war with Russia
At a summit in Wales on Sept. 4, NATO leaders voiced strong support for the embattled Ukraine and pledged 15 million euros in aid to the embattled country. Hundreds of NATO troops are on their way to Ukraine for a training exercise.
But what NATO did not do is offer Ukraine membership in the transatlantic alliance. And for good reason. Adding Ukraine to NATO could dangerously provoke Russia.
“Our support is concrete and tangible,” NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after a joint meeting between alliance leadership and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko.
“We highly value Ukraine’s contributions to our operations and the NATO Response Force,” Rasmussen added. “Ukraine has stood by NATO. Now in these difficult times, NATO stands by Ukraine.”
Rasmussen said NATO has established “a comprehensive and tailored package of measures” to help Ukraine. It includes financial assistance for the rehabilitation of injured troops, cyber-defense, logistics and command and control.
The alliance also called on Russia to cease hostilities in eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian separatists aided by Russian soldiers and Russian artillery batteries are fighting Ukrainian forces.
“Russia must stop its aggressive actions against Ukraine, withdraw its thousands of troops from Ukraine and the border regions and stop supporting the separatists in Ukraine,” Rasmussen said.
In late August, Ukraine moved forward with a request to join NATO when the government there said it would introduce legislation that would end the nation’s non-aligned status. Allowing the country to join at this time would be a bold move, placing the nation under the protection of the alliance’s Article 5 which states that an attack on one member nation is an attack on all of NATO.
The response from NATO was decidedly mixed. Although on Aug. 29 Rasmussen said the alliance will fully respect any decision made by Ukraine regarding its “security policy and alliance affiliations,” on Sept. 1 during a media briefing he seemed to dodge the question of full membership for Ukraine.
“NATO’s greatest responsibility remains to protect and defend our populations and our territories,” Rasmussen said on Sept. 1. “We also need the capacity to manage crises and to work with partners to help build stability.”
“So at the summit, we will ensure that the alliance remains ready, able and willing to defend all allies against any attack,” he continued.
As for Russia, Putin and his administration remain adamant in their opposition to the expansion of NATO into any nation once part of the Soviet orbit. On Aug. 30, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russia’s TVC television that “if this organization [NATO] comes closer to our border, naturally, Russia will be forced to take measures to ensure its security.”
With a resurgent Russia engaged in open low-intensity warfare in the Ukraine and a defiant Putin unscathed by economic sanctions leveled by the United States and the European Union, NATO now must show its members and the world that it offers a credible plan for collective security.
“This is the most operationally important summit since the fall of the [Berlin] wall because things are changing so fundamentally with Russia, and the changes are in the operational zone,” retired U.S. Navy admiral James Stavridis, former NATO supreme allied commander and currently the dean of The Fletcher School at Tufts University, said in a written statement.
However, at the same time NATO leaders debate how to maintain a robust alliance strategy the consensus seems whatever NATO does it cannot provoke a face-to-face confrontation between the alliance and Russia. In short, many leaders are reluctant to fight Cold War 2.0.
The agenda for the two-day summit is jam-packed—it includes discussion of Afghanistan, terrorism and whether member nations are willing to pay for additional measures. However, the crisis in Ukraine and the nature of NATO’s future relationship with Russia is taking center stage.
“We must agree on long-term measures to strengthen our ability to respond quickly to any threat, to reassure those allies who fear for their own country’s security and to deter any Russian aggression,” according to NATO’s official position paper for the summit.
Proposed measures to achieve those ends are a revised exercise schedule “adapted to the new security environment,” new infrastructure, prepositioning of equipment and supplies in Eastern European countries that are NATO members and an enhanced NATO response force of up to 4,000 combat soldiers.
But the alliance is walking a ledge. In 1997, NATO and Russia signed the NATO-Russia Founding Act. During the Paris signing ceremony, Russian president Boris Yeltsin said the act stated “an obligation not to deploy NATO combat forces on a permanent basis near Russia.”
The Kremlin recently made it clear that expectation still holds and that forward deployment of NATO equipment or troops would be a provocation. To say nothing of letting Ukraine into the alliance.