As of yesterday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenski had reached the point where he was publicly stating that his country could “never” join NATO. Given that this was allegedly the sticking point that Putin used to justify the invasion, that was considered to be a significant concession. But just hearing that from Zelenski clearly wasn’t enough. The leaders of other countries were clearly going to need to weigh in on the subject. One of the first was British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. In an almost complete reversal of what he was saying just a few weeks ago, BoJo announced that NATO membership for Ukraine simply isn’t going to happen. But will this make a difference in Putin’s long-range plans? (Associated Press)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Ukraine is not going to join NATO “any time soon,” after the country’s president acknowledged Ukraine would not become part of the Western military alliance.
President Vladimir Putin has long depicted Ukraine’s NATO aspirations as a threat to Russia, something the alliance denies…
On Wednesday, Johnson — one of the most vocal Western supporters of Ukraine — said “the reality of the position” is that “there is no way Ukraine is going to join NATO any time soon.” But he said the decision had to be for Ukraine to make.
Let’s compare that position to what we were hearing from some NATO member nation leaders roughly one month ago, as Putin was still assembling his forces near the Ukrainian border for what he insisted were simply normal military training drills. In fact, it was exactly one month ago, on February 16th, when NATO issued a statement committing the organization to the principle that anyone could apply for membership. They wrote, “NATO remains committed to the foundational principles underpinning European security, including that each nation has the right to choose its own security arrangements.”
At that time, Joe Biden was still saying that a firm commitment by NATO to never offer membership to Ukraine was “a non-starter.” Other NATO leaders were making similar statements. It seemed as if everyone was in a rush to play the part of the tough guy and tell Putin that he could stick his demands where the sun doesn’t shine. But this week, there is clearly a similar rush to line up and say, ‘who? Us? We never thought Ukraine would get into NATO. Perish the thought.’
Let’s keep in mind the fact that up until the point when Putin managed to turn Zelenski into an international superhero figure, nobody was taking the idea of Ukraine being able to join NATO seriously except for Russia. The Ukrainian government was widely seen as being quite corrupt and they didn’t meet the base qualifications for membership.
Now, with most countries scrambling for some way to get Russia to pull back out of the country and end the war, everyone (including Zelenski) seems to be agreeing that NATO membership is off the table. But why would that be enough to satisfy Putin? Even in Johnson’s statement, he included the phrase “any time soon.” That implies that it could still happen at some point in the future.
All of this is probably going to be seen as pointless drama when everything is said and done. I’m sure that Putin has had serious concerns about NATO encircling Russia’s borders, but that wasn’t the only motivating factor he had on his mind. He did a great job keeping everyone guessing until the invasion actually began, but no matter what NATO said, he probably would have invaded anyway. By this point, it should be becoming obvious that this invasion has to do with a lot more than just NATO membership. Putin wants to rebuild the Soviet empire as much as possible. He’s clearly never recognized Ukraine’s status as an independent nation. As long as the Ukrainian government acted submissive toward Moscow, Putin was apparently willing to turn a blind eye. But once they started showing signs of independence and a desire to do business with the west, that was a bridge too far. I’ll freely admit that I didn’t see this coming while the Russian buildup was unfolding, but in hindsight, it’s starting to look pretty obvious.