Why is Ukraine not in Nato? Country’s position on alliance explained - and why Russia doesn’t want it to join

Russia had asked for assurance that Ukraine does not join Nato but had the demand rejected by the West
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has submitted a fast-tracked application to join defence alliance NATO.

Ukraine has found itself in an impossible situation in the past few months, after Russian forces moved in on the country. Attacks have taken place on Ukrainian soil after Vladimir Putin’s men made their way into the neighbouring country.

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Zelensky’s decision to fast-track Ukraine’s application came after Russian President Vladimir Putin formally annexed four region of Ukraine - Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk. Putin made the formal decision after a series of “sham referendums” in these areas of Ukraine.

The Russian President had previously said that one of the reasons for pushing into the country was due to the threat NATO posed if Ukraine was to join the security alliance, with NATO weapons on the doorstep of Russia.

He had asked for confirmation that Ukraine will not join NATO, however his demands were rejected by the West.

Now, with conflict in the region, the NATO membership status of Ukraine is up in the air, with the defensive alliance understandably unsure of intervening in direct conflict.

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While the West attempts to diffuse the situation with sanctions and other methods, there are questions over Ukraine’s desire to join NATO - are they still planning on joining and could they scrap the bid in hope of peace?

Here’s everything you need to know about Ukraine’s NATO membership bid.

 (Credit: Getty) (Credit: Getty)
(Credit: Getty)

Why is Ukraine not in Nato?

Despite NATO being present in Ukraine, and Ukraine contributing towards NATO missions, the country is still officially not a member.

Upon the inauguration of US President Joe Biden in 2020, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his first question to the new US leader would be: “Mr President, why are we not in NATO yet?”

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Continued cooperation between Ukraine and NATO has put Ukraine in a strong position to join the defence alliance and plans are already in place for this to happen.

However, Ukraine, along with Georgia, began a formal process to begin a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) in 2008.

However, this plan was put on ice after the 2010 election, when President Viktor Yanukovych was elected as leader of the former Soviet country.

President Yanukovych was against Ukraine joining the defence alliance and had a preference that the country remained non-aligned.

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The leader was forced to flee the country in February 2014 after the Euromaidan protests.

The demonstrations, held in Kyiv, led to civil unrest as citizens protested plans to tie the country closer to Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union rather than to the European Union.

As a result of ensuing conflict with Russia, the MAP application has not continued, with some experts believe that the delay may be because of fears of a Russian retaliation over the move or the West’s reluctance to get directly involved in the escalating conflict.

Does Ukraine want to join NATO?

The plans for Ukraine to join NATO initially remained shelved after the interim government came to power, but this changed after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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Since then, the Ukrainian government has made the continuation of the MAP a priority of their leadership, with public support in Ukraine also steadily increasing since the annexation.

In June 2021, NATO leaders reiterated that Ukraine will eventually become a member state through the MAP and said that Russia would have no influence on Ukraine’s application to the alliance.

However, intergrating Ukraine into the secuity alliance is a rocky situation as active conflict is ongoing within the country.

If Ukraine were to join NATO during the war, Russia would technically be attacking a NATO target, and therefore carry the 30 member states into potential conflict.

Why does Russia not want Ukraine to join NATO?

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The issue has remained a contentious one between Ukraine and Russia.

President Putin has repeatedly asked for assurance that the country will not join the NATO defence alliance after they said that the West had broken a promise to not expand eastwards.

Tensions have been rising between Russia and Ukraine as the US intervene to minimise the potential conflict. (Credit: Getty)Tensions have been rising between Russia and Ukraine as the US intervene to minimise the potential conflict. (Credit: Getty)
Tensions have been rising between Russia and Ukraine as the US intervene to minimise the potential conflict. (Credit: Getty)

The Russian leader has previously claimed that the United States “deceived” the country and broke a 1990 promise by allowing states in Central and Eastern Europe to join Nato.

This includes countries which border Russia such as Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.

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More than 100,000 Russian troops were placed along the Russian-Ukrainian border in November 2021, with Russian officials stating that Nato’s presence in the neighbouring country posed “security threats”.

This is due to claims that NATO had supplied weapons to Ukraine to fight in the Russo-Ukrainian War in the Crimea and Donbas region as well as building up Nato resources in nearby member states.

President Putin said that his troops could not retreat any further as a result, adding: “Do they think we’ll just sit idly by?”

Russia moved into separatist regions Donetsk and Luhansk on 21 February 2022 as part of a “peacekeeping operation” after President Putin recognised the independence of the two republics.

Is Ukraine still planning on joining NATO?

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Russia gave the West an ultimatum and requested that Ukraine’s application to the defence alliance was rejected in order for troops to be stepped down.

The West rejected President Putin’s demands and stated that any independent state was able to join Nato as they have an “open door policy”.

Speaking previously, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said: “It’s only Ukraine and 30 NATO allies that decide when Ukraine is ready to join NATO. Russia has no veto, Russia has no say, and Russia has no right to establish a sphere of influence to try to control their neighbours.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg leads a press conference in Brussels. (Credit: Getty)NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg leads a press conference in Brussels. (Credit: Getty)
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg leads a press conference in Brussels. (Credit: Getty)

Ukraine has spoken out about the status of their membership, with Vadym Prystaiko, the Ukrainian ambassador to the UK, backpedaling on comments that the country could consider walking away from an attempt to join.

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When asked if Ukraine could drop its bid to join NATO in an attempt to de-escalate the situation with Russia, Mr Prystaiko was initially quoted by the BBC as saying: “We might, especially being threatened like that, blackmailed by that, and pushed to it.”

However, the Ukrainian 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 not up for consideration.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed that Ukraine was still seeking to join NATO as it was “enshrined in the Ukrainian legislation and Ukrainian constitution”.

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