Support for scrapping the NATO Membership Action Plan for Ukraine, which has been repelling Russia’s bloody onslaught for more than a year already, appears to be gaining more supporters as skepticism fades. A facilitated membership path for Ukraine could be one of several components of a political package offered to Kyiv at a Vilnius summit scheduled for July, along with already announced bilateral security guarantees. At the same time, there are still many voices in Europe against dropping the MAP, and their argument is fear of a potential escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian war. So, should Ukraine be in NATO or not, and how can this affect the further course of developments and the situation in Europe in general? Let’s try to figure this out.
Let’s start with whether a long and bloody war in the center of Europe would be possible if Ukraine were a NATO member? It seems that the answer here is obvious – the Russian invasion, which has been going on for almost 16 months already, could definitely have been avoided. After all, despite all the bravado and neo-imperial rhetoric, Putin would have hardly dared to engage in a potentially devastating confrontation with the Alliance. But what happened cannot be changed. However, it is possible to change and influence the future course of events – the future not only of Ukraine, but also of Europe in general. Today, hostilities on the Ukrainian soil continue. According to many analysts, we’re at the stage of a long-anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive and, accordingly, a decisive tipping point in this war. Can NATO remain exclusively a defense alliance in the conditions of an outward territorial expansion by the Kremlin and further delay in allowing Ukraine to become a NATO ally? The Ukrainian army has proven on the battlefield that it is one of the most experienced and capable forces in Europe today, and therefore it is obvious that it would contribute to further strengthening NATO rather than become a burden. With a historic decision to provide Ukraine with a security guarantee within Article 5 of the Alliance’s charter, NATO can finally cut that problematic Gordian Knot and put an end to endless Russian threats and acts of ggression, which have become the biggest challenge for the entire united civilized world.
Let’s go for a bit of a historical context now. So history proves that Russian territorial expansion has a cyclical nature because traditionally, Russia has been in only two states: either degradation, when it asked for help, or wars of aggression – that’s when Moscow feels it’s strong enough again to attack. Nothing has changed in recent history either. Putin unleashed the second Chechen war as soon as he got power, his invasion of Georgia in 2008 meant the restoration of Russia’s military potential, and even then a threat to Europe became visible, in which no one wanted to believe. Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea became the final confirmation of Putin’s intention to wage wars of aggression. Even if Russia, due to certain circumstances, suspends or contains hostilities in Ukraine, it will definitely try to repeat a full-scale offensive that may go beyond Ukraine’s borders. Therefore, the conclusion is obvious – only Ukraine’s membership in NATO will put an end to the Russian threat and create a security zone on the eastern borders of Europe.
One of the biggest fears Europeans have is that of a full-out nuclear war, and the Kremlin is perfectly aware of that. But here it is worth mentioning that Russia has long been not only blackmailing, but also going beyond the limits of its threats. So, back in March of last year, Russian troops resorted to shelling Europe’s largest nuclear power plant — the Zaporizhzhia NPP. Therefore, the aggressor should not be feared, but it must be stopped before it’s too late, although it is unlikely that Putin will dare start a nuclear war that would mean devastation for all parties. This horrifying threat is traditionally used by the Kremlin to achieve its political goals by intimidating the West and expecting some concessions in return. At the same time, despite Russia’s attempts to divide and weaken Europe through its wars and threats, the invasion of Ukraine, on the contrary, united and strengthened the European continent like never before. Moreover, it was Russian aggression that prompted Finland and Sweden, which until that moment had remained neutral, to apply for NATO membership, so the Alliance today is much more united and stronger than ever. At the same time, experts predict that the Russian army will almost double by 2026, to become a 1.5-million force. Russia is already creating new military districts near the Baltic states and Finland, which cannot help but alert Europe and lead to the idea of Putin’s preparation of a potential war with Europe. And in view of such developments, Ukraine’s membership in NATO is an absolutely logical and necessary step. Besides, such a partnership is seen as in many ways beneficial to the Alliance.
A priori, Ukraine today cannot remain a buffer zone because this will in no way contribute to the prevention of another full-scale invasion. Let’s recall how Russia tried for years to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO, and this was done in order to have at hand the bridgehead for an attack on Europe. In 2008, Ukraine’s integration into NATO was effectively stopped by the decision of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who did not agree to provide Kyiv with an MAP. And this became a kind of geopolitical Rubicon for Putin, who sensed a certain weakness on the part of the West and started a global confrontation. Already three months after Germany’s refusal to provide an MAP to Ukraine, the Kremlin unleashed a war in Georgia, occupying part of its territory; later in 2014, Russia annexed the Ukrainian Crimea and launched an undeclared aggression in the east of Ukraine, which in February 2022 turned into a full-scale invasion . This was the cost of Europe’s hesitation and concessions to Putin. But this in no way curbed the appetites of the Russian dictator, rather; on the contrary, it only warmed them up. Therefore, in a situation in which Ukraine does not become a member of NATO, Russia will have multiple opportunities to repeat a full-scale offensive, which will spill into Europe, where the Russian army will have to be stopped by force.
Experience proves that Russia has always perceived complacency as weakness. It never stopped Moscow – it only inspired the Kremlin to expand its aggression. This should not be forgotten. Therefore, the strong protest that has been voiced by the Kremlin for decades against Ukraine’s membership in NATO is explained by the simple fact that Russia has never given up plans to occupy Ukrainian territories. In fact, this can be prevented only by the facilitated admission of Ukraine into the Alliance: in this way, a «security belt» will be formed on the eastern borders of Europe. Ukraine’s membership in NATO can become a factor in not only strengthening the West, but also in avoiding war with the Russian Federation, of which skeptical European politicians are so terrified.
Today, Russian terror in Ukraine demonstrated not only Russia’s intentions, but also their methods of waging war, which every day confirms its notorious status as a terrorist state that kills civilians, destroys civilian infrastructure and lives of more than one generation of Ukrainians. In general, it is already possible to project that this will be the approbation of possible future aggressive actions by Moscow against European countries – if Russia isn’t stopped today. There is still such a chance and you should take advantage of it today because tomorrow may already be too late.
Agree, admitting Ukraine to NATO, helping the nation protect its independence by strengthening its defense capability and capacity of its armed forces is today a much simpler and cheaper option than that of potentially needing to wage an actual war with a nuclear power in the streets of other European cities and countries with all the ensuing consequences.