Putin and the N-word: NATO, Ukraine and Russia
In November 2021, satellite imagery suggested that Moscow was mobilising 100,000 Russian troops on the border of Ukraine. After demands from Russia, various warnings from the West, tense negotiations, and Moscow’s denial of a looming offensive (despite the continuing military build-up), on the 24th of February, Vladimir Putin declared that Russia would invade Ukraine. Despite the warnings and negotiations over the past few months, it was not enough to deter or satisfy Putin – but what would have satisfied him?
In order to end the standoff (and potentially prevent a conflict), Putin set out a list of demands for NATO to complete. The first notable demand was for NATO to promise that they will never accept Ukraine, Georgia, or Moldova as members. The second was for NATO to pull away from countries with borders to Ukraine. Other demands included Kyiv granting the Donbas region autonomous status and renouncing claims to Crimea, for NATO to cease military drills near the Russian border, and also called for a ban on sending both Russian and US warships to areas from where they can attack.
These demands from Russia were highly contentious, and so far, no demands have been met. In Putin’s eyes, they would guarantee security and protection for Russia. From the West’s perspective, the demands indicated Russia’s attempt to establish a sphere of influence akin to that of the Soviet Union. Reflecting this division in thinking, NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has stated that “there are significant differences between NATO allies and Russia on these issues. Our differences will not be easy to bridge”.
Ukraine’s desire to join NATO has significantly increased since the conflict started, and Russia’s demand for NATO to deny Ukraine’s acceptance into the alliance has fuelled this fire. Despite already having a partnership with NATO since 1992, Ukraine wishes to have a formal membership agreement with the alliance. For Ukraine, NATO would grant them military support and act as a deterrent to Russian aggression. Additionally, Ukraine’s acceptance into the alliance would draw Ukraine closer to the rest of Europe and could act as a gateway for joining the European Union, which would pull Ukraine away from Russia’s influence. Importantly, if Ukraine were to join NATO, it could worsen the tensions between all involved parties.
The Ukraine invasion has caused concern for other European countries. Recently, both Moldova and Georgia submitted applications to join NATO. Moldova wants to grow politically closer to the EU and have the additional security that NATO offers. While for Georgia, the 2008 Russo-Georgian war is a recent and painful memory.
The conflict has also prompted others to become more engaged with NATO. Both Sweden and Finland have joined NATO’s emergency summit, despite not being NATO members. 53 percent of Finns are in favour of being part of the alliance, according to the Atlantic Council. Sweden’s decision to join NATO will not be rushed by the current events, however, has prompted increased discussions within the Swedish parliament. There is an evident renewed interest in joining NATO.
Since the outbreak of the conflict, there have been negotiations between NATO and Ukraine about providing assistance and joining the alliance. NATO recently rejected Ukraine’s call to set up a no-fly zone over Ukraine and protect them from Russian warplanes and missiles. The future of this conflict is still unknown, as both sides are prepared to continue fighting and it is still unclear whether other countries or alliances will intervene. But as long as Ukraine continues trying to join NATO, the pressures from Russia may not end.
Jazmin is a third-year Bachelor of Security Studies student at Macquarie University. She is currently a General Officer with the Young Diplomats Society.