Debates on Ukraine’s NATO Membership

Making a statement on 14 June 2021 President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky, claimed that his country is going to become a member state of NATO and this was confirmed by NATO leaders[i]. However, the membership of Ukraine to NATO will not be ordinary expansion move for NATO. Because such a step would mean important geopolitical choices. It is not possible to say that NATO which appreciates the approach of Kiev administrations to the west and considers this fact as a success in term of containment policy of Russia, will be as willing as expressed in accepting Ukraine as a member.

 

The assessment made by the President of the United States (USA) Joe Biden regarding Zelenski’s statements also revealed this reluctance. Biden said, “For Ukraine to become a member of NATO, it must first clean up corruption and meet other criteria.”[ii] Thus, the President of the USA said that they will not reject Ukraine; but he gave the message that the membership will be taken slowly and spread over time due to various criteria.”

 

If it is required to mention the problems in question, Firstly it should be underlined that NATO calls itself as an “Alliance of values”. Therefore NATO will demand to take significant steps from Ukraine  in term of democracy and human rights. But more importantly, NATO, which is a security organization, will not adopt the membership of an actor that has problems in establishing its territorial integrity, has difficulty in establishing full sovereignty over its borders, and carries the risk of active conflict. This situation draws attention as NATO criterion. In this context NATO, Although NATO supports clearly Ukraine against the Russia, it will not prefer to take place in the conflicts that can occur directly, at least for now.

 

As it is mentioned above, membership of NATO will be a geopolitical choice and thus, NATO will approach this issue very cautiously. Because, Even if NATO desires to contain Russia, will not want to be neigbour with russia and have border problems.

 

Aforementioned reluctance, is caused by Russia’s “Near Abroad Policy”. Russia considers the post-Soviet geography as its sphere of influence and defines the orientation of the countries in this geography to NATO as a threat to its national security.

 

The reflection of the aforementioned threat perception became more concrete when Romania and Bulgaria became NATO members in 2004. After these Affiliations, Moscow implied that NATO had reached its final eastern frontier, where it could expand within the former Warsaw Pact member states. Therefore, Russia considers NATO’s Affiliation of countries such as Ukraine and Georgia as a cause of war. In fact, Russia has clearly demonstrated that it will not hesitate to fight in order to maintain its influence in its immediate surroundings through its interventions both in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine in 2014. Moreover, the Kremlin considers the affiliation of Bulgaria and Romania together with the fact that Turkey is also a NATO member, and is concerned that the Black Sea will turn into a “NATO Lake” in case of possible Ukraine membership. Therefore, Russia is against the Ukraine’s membership to NATO.

After the Zelensky’s statement Russian authorities, made declarations which is emphasizing the disturbance of Russia on Affiliation of Ukraine to NATO. Speaking to the American NBC channel on the subject, Putin said, “It was promised that NATO would not expand to the east. Where are these promises?[iii]” He reacted sharply to the debates on Ukraine’s membership.

Similarly, Kremlin’s Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov claimed that people living in eastern Ukraine would not adopt NATO membership and that such reactions would further destabilize the Donbas region.[iv] Considering the increasing tension in the Donbas center in recent months, it can be stated that Russia is preparing to respond to the possible membership decision, primarily targeting the Donbas and finally reaching Odessa. In fact, through such an response, Russia will have made a step forward in its ambitions related to Trans-Dniester. Therefore, Ukraine’s NATO membership is seen as a reason for war by Russia and Moscow clearly demonstrates its determination on this issue.

Since the USA and NATO are aware of Russia’s sensitivities, they approach full membership cautiously and explain the “membership criteria” in a way that puts the issue on hold. Because the membership of Ukraine may even be the beginning of a process that can be described as the Third World War. Because NATO’s relationship with this state as a member will mean that it is willing to go to war with Russia.

Conclusionally, Even if  Zelensky’s statement is not clearly but implicitly refuted.While NATO allies are pleased the Kiev’s Western orientation, they are aware of the risks of Ukraine’s membership. In the current situation, it is not very possible to face these risks. As a matter of fact, the most important result of the Biden-Putin Summit held on June 16, 2021 is that the parties want to keep the channels of dialogue open and make the crises controllable; that is, to prevent the “New Cold War” from turning into hot conflicts through the operation of diplomatic mechanisms. At a time when these messages are given, Ukraine’s NATO membership is not possible. It would not be a correct comment to say that this situation that will change in the short term. Therefore, Ukraine’s NATO journey may turn into a long journey that is required to fulfill various criteria.


[i][i] @ZelenskyyUa, “Commend @NATO partners’ understanding of all the risks and challenges we face. NATO leaders confirmed that Ukrayna Bayrağı will become a member of the Alliance & the #MAP is an integral part of the membership process. Ukrayna Bayrağı deserves due appreciation of its role in ensuring Euro-Atlantic security”, NATO, https://twitter.com/ZelenskyyUa/status/1404512788966514689, (Date of Accession: 16.06.2021).

[ii]Ukrayna’nın NATO Üyeliği İhtimali Putin’i kızdırdı: Bizi kandırdılar”, Sabah, https://www.sabah.com.tr/dunya/2021/06/15/ukraynanin-nato-uyeligi-ihtimali-putini-kizdirdi-bizi-kandirdilar, (Date of Accession:17.06.2021).

[iii] Ibid.

[iv]“Ukraine Urges NATO to Set up Membership Path”, Deutche Welle, https://www.dw.com/en/ukraine-urges-nato-to-set-up-membership-path/a-57110384, (Date of Accession:17.06.2021).

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