NATO’s Role in the Russia-Ukraine War

NATO’s Role in the Russia-Ukraine War

Since Russia attacked Ukraine in February of last year, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) has unflinchingly condemned Russia and many member countries have supplied Ukraine with humanitarian aid, money, weapons, artillery, and defense systems. This support has undoubtedly helped Ukraine fight longer than many countries anticipated – especially Russia.

NATO has been walking a delicate tightrope of providing help to Ukraine without crossing over an unclear redline that spur Putin to use a nuclear weapon. Has NATO been successful in its armament and political support efforts so far?

NATO’s Creation and Purpose

NATO was formed in 1949 by 12 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada, with the goal of defying Russian expansion after World War II. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, many Eastern European countries, previous Russian allies, were allowed to become NATO members. Today, there are 30 NATO countries.

Ukraine’s Struggle Toward NATO Membership

In 2008, Ukraine applied for membership and received the response that it could one day become a member. The main reason cited was that NATO rules dictate that if one NATO country is attacked, all the others must come to that country’s defense. NATO did not want to take that risk with Ukraine.

NATO did, however, grant Ukraine the status of NATO “partner,” which is why countries have been bolstering Ukraine during the war with nearly everything short of planes and troops.

At the end of September 2022, following Putin’s annexation of four Ukrainian provinces, President Zelenskiy announced that Ukraine was applying for fast-tracked approval for NATO membership. He argued that Ukraine was a de facto member of NATO anyway and should be accepted.

NATO members, however, saw things differently, and Ukraine received the same answer it received for more than a decade: membership is possible, but not at this point.

Even the United States, despite President Biden’s recent solidarity visit to Ukraine, is not rushing to approve Kyiv’s membership. The primary reason is the same: accepting Ukraine means the U.S. and other NATO countries must commit to go to war against Russia, which could effectively launch World War III. 

Therefore, NATO is supporting Ukraine in every way it can, short of allowing membership.

Sweden and Finland: New NATO Members?

After Russia invaded Ukraine, Sweden and Finland asked to join NATO, a significant move for two countries that had previously preferred to remain neutral. The war, however, spurred them to action.

All 30 NATO countries need to agree to allow new member countries in. As of now, all except Turkey and Hungary have approved. While Hungary has not declared a reason for its delay, Turkey claims that Sweden is harboring Turkish terrorists and refusing to extradite them. Additionally, in January Swedish protestors burned a Koran and hanged Turkish President Erdogan in effigy.

Talks are scheduled to resume in early March, but Turkey says that Sweden still has a long way to go before it can gain its approval. As for Finland, there’s a possibility that it may get approved without Sweden. Even though Sweden and Finland have been close allies, Turkey’s main objection is with Sweden.

Russia vs. NATO

In the recent Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly, Putin spoke for nearly two hours about Russia’s strength and the NATO/United States enemy. He said that NATO caused the war against Ukraine with its continued expansion throughout Europe since the Cold War.

NATO, on the other hand, is concerned that Russia might start buying weapons from China, which would effectively position the two superpowers against NATO in a massive East vs. West conflict. With nuclear power on the table, that’s a situation that NATO certainly wants to avoid. For now, NATO continues to walk the tightrope of bolstering Ukraine while minimizing Putin’s ire as much as possible.