Ukraine has long asked for admission into NATO. Vladimir Putin won’t have it.
Early Thursday, Russia invaded Ukraine, forcing citizens of the former Soviet state to flee and pushing the world to the brink of war. Why has Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to carry out this attack on a neighboring country? It’s in large part due to NATO, the military alliance known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Ukraine is a former Soviet state and became independent in 1991. For years, it has asked to become a member of NATO, which would align it with the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and other Western democracies in the mutual defense pact. But while Ukraine has asked to join repeatedly, it has only been designated as a partner country.
Russia has taken a hard stance against allowing Ukraine’s membership to happen. And Putin has signaled time and time again that he believes Ukraine is rightfully Russian; earlier this week, he said in a speech that Ukraine was “entirely and fully created by Russia” and that the country “has never had traditions of its own statehood.” For Ukraine to join the Western alliance, then, is a direct threat to Putin’s worldview.
Why NATO has been reluctant to admit the country, however, is a separate matter. NATO has held that the country does not meet the qualifications for membership — but as Axios’s Jonathan Swan noted in an interview last November with Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, there’s also the fact that with Russian aggression constantly looming over the country, to admit Ukraine would be to provoke Putin and possibly knowingly entangle the allied nations into what would become a global conflict should Russia invade.
Of course, Russia did invade Ukraine in 2014 and seize the Crimean peninsula, which remains occupied to this day. Ukraine has asked for NATO membership in order to ensure its protection should Russia ever invade again, but it never happened. And now, Ukraine is once again under siege.
For more context on why NATO is at the center of all this, here’s part of Swan’s interview with Stoltenberg, which includes Stoltenberg’s direct answer on how NATO would support Ukraine in the event of an invasion.