Observations of an expat: Ukraine and NATO

Vilnius is about to enter the history books. The capital of Lithuania will next week (Tuesday and Wednesday) be the scene for a potentially historic NATO summit.

At the top of the agenda will be the question of NATO membership for Ukraine.

Needless to say, a decision to invite Ukraine into the Western Alliance would have global repercussions. It would both deter and infuriate Russia. Extend the Eastern borders of NATO. Strengthen the European arm of the Alliance. Allow the US to move more resources to the Pacific which would anger the Chinese.

As of this writing most of the European members of NATO – with the exception of Hungary and possibly Turkey – favour the admission of Ukraine. The Biden Administration is not so keen because of the fear of Russian retaliation. On Fri c day, Moscow conducted nuclear air drills over the Baltic region. It was a clear pre-summit warning of the possible consequences of Ukrainian NATO membership.

However, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, made a compelling case for Ukraine half in NATO in this week’s issue of Foreign Policy magazine. “Today,” he writes, “Ukraine is a net contributor of security protecting the European-Atlantic Community from an aggressive and revanchist Russia… When Ukraine wins the war it will have battle-hardened Ukrainian troops protecting NATO’s Eastern flank.”

He appears to accept the political and security problems that would accompany full-fledged membership of the Western Alliance. “We are not seeking immediate membership,” he writes. “We will not drag NATO into this war. We have never requested foreign troops on the ground in Ukraine. With the generous assistance of our partners we will defeat Russia on our own. This war is ours to fight.”

But he adds that the “next war” can be avoided by admitting Ukraine into NATO. However, Kuleba leaves open when that membership would be finalised. Instead he suggests that NATO publicly accept that Ukraine is as important to NATO to as NATO is to Ukraine. Furthermore that Ukraine is an “inseparable part of the Euro-Atlantic security” framework and finally that Ukraine is invited to join NATO and that that membership will take effect “when all the conditions are met.” The foreign minister does not spell out what the conditions should be.

Ukrainian membership of the Alliance will dominate the Vilnius Summit but there are other major issues. Among them are Swedish membership of the Alliance. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to block Swedish entry because of the Swedes insistence on providing sanctuary for Turkish political refugees. Erdogan will come under strong pressure to drop his veto.

If he does then NATO’s Northern Flank will be immeasurably strengthened. Finnish membership has already added an 832 miles of border with Russia. Poland is increasing its defense expenditure to four percent of GDP and the Baltic States to three percent. The addition of the Swedish navy will transform the Baltic Sea from a Russian to NATO lake.

China is also high on the agenda. Washington wants to encourage increased defense spending by the European arm of the Alliance to enable it to focus more on Asia. This fits with French President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to use the EU to increase security cooperation. As for China, they are concerned that the recent opening of a NATO office in Tokyo is a sign that NATO is expanding outside the North Atlantic region.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopedia of the War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain". He has a weekly podcast, Transatlantic Riff.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Mel Borthwaite 8th Jul '23 - 11:14am

    Another consequence of a NATO decision to admit Ukraine to membership will be that the chances of a negotiate settlement to the war will recede even further. Russia has made it clear that it would require Ukraine to accept neutrality as part of any negotiated settlement and if that outcome becomes impossible to achieve by negotiation, Russia will have no choice but to continue the war until they achieve military victory in order to secure that requirement. Of course, the USA and most NATO countries do not want a negotiated settlement to this war as they believe any negotiated settlement would reward Russian aggression so deciding to admit Ukraine to NATO would work towards this objective.

  • Steve Trevethan 8th Jul '23 - 11:25am

    Might it be more accurate to change the name of NATO as it is expanding beyond the North Atlantic?

  • Martin Gray 8th Jul '23 - 1:05pm

    Ukrainian membership of NATO would be a bitter pill to swallow for any Russian President – let alone a despotic one…It should never have been entertained, that’s realpolitik….Now we have the US sending cluster bombs, who earlier in the conflict declared their use as a war crime ..Still – anything to keep the North American military industrial complex going $….

  • Much depends on whether you regard Russia as being part of Europe…
    I would be tempted to support the accession of Ukraine to NATO and (probably ahead of progressing this) remind Russia, NATO is still awaiting its membership application; something the US has been open to since the early 1990s.

  • Let me start out by saying I am in two minds about both cluster bombs and Ukrainian membership of NATO. First membership, Ukraine is an independent sovereign country. It has the right to determine its own foreign and defense policy. That is one of the central issues behind the Ukrainian crisis and it dates back to 2014 when Ukraine tried to join the EU and was essentially prevented from doing so by Vladimir Putin. If you remove Ukraine’s right to decide its own foreign policy you will effectively turn it into a vassal of its larger Russian neighbour and open the door to Moscow using the same tactic in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Georgia, Moldova…. Set against all the above is a large dose of realpolitik.
    As for cluster bombs, they are a nasty weapon and I am pleased that Rishi Sunak does not back their use in Ukraine. But at the same time, clinging to the moral high ground in wartime is difficult. If you are going to fight and sacrifice lives then you should fight to win, not score moral points. The time for magnanimity is in victory.
    You also have to understand the reason for their use. The Ukrainians are struggling to fight their way through an elaborate in-depth defense systems. Key to these defenses are Russian-made butterfly landmines (see World Review tomorrow) which are indiscriminately dropped from the air and also opposed by international bodies. The argument for cluster bombs thus involves a bit of whataboutery and fighting fire with fire (excuse mixed metaphors)

  • Nonconformistradical 8th Jul '23 - 5:44pm

    “Much depends on whether you regard Russia as being part of Europe…”
    A much larger proportion of Russia is in Europe than the proportion of Turkey which is in Europe.

    Ukraine is entirely within Europe.


  • I don’t like cluster bombs but I think we have to let this supply by the US to go ahead. Russia uses them freely so to condemn Ukraine for using them is wrong. Sunak is showing weakness that is to be expected of him.

  • Steve Trevethan 9th Jul '23 - 7:28am

    Might the use of cluster bombs, which so harm civilians too, be a reason to work for negotiations?

  • Robin Stafford 9th Jul '23 - 11:33am

    It is far too rarely recognised that Russia is an imperialist and colonialist country and has been for centuries. Russia is essentially a country centred on Moscow and St Petersburg, West of the Urals. It has colonised its neighbours to the West, East and South in the most brutal fashion and this continues today. This includes many nations and ethnicities that are far removed from ‘Russians’. The Tatars of Crimea are but one example of people deported, oppressed and replaced by ethnic Russians. It should not be for those neighbours to be demilitarised – they have repeatedly seen the consequences. Ukraine, Georgia and Chechnya most recently.

    Colonialism by W European countries is rightly criticised but this came to a close 50-70 years ago, even if we are still working through the consequences. Russia’s colonialism continues to this day and Putin explicitly talks about expanding the Russian Empire. Until Russia moves on from that imperialist mindset it will continues to be a very real threat to its neighbours. See also its activities in Africa and of course Syria.

    I keep being struck by the widespread ignorance of the history of Russia and its neighbours. That combined with the crass double standards of sections of the anti-colonial Left, and leaders such as Modi and some in Africa who continue to berate the West whilst cosying up to Russia. Whilst they were gaining their independence Russia was sending in the tanks to re-impose its rule on countries such as Lithuania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

  • Robin Stafford 9th Jul '23 - 11:34am

    Timothy Snyder, a professor at Harvard has done an excellent series of lectures and podcasts which cover the history of the region over the last 1,000 years of so. His reputation is such that he was asked to address the UN Security Council. Well worth listening to if you want to understand Russia and why it continues to be such a threat to its neighbours.

  • Steve Trevethan 9th Jul '23 - 12:47pm

    Might the item of July 07 in the attached piece be relevant?

  • Zachary Adam Barker 9th Jul '23 - 10:06pm

    -Robin Stafford. You are absolutely correct that about the widespread failure to recognise Russia as an imperialist and colonialist power.
    -Russia won’t allow? Russia won’t swallow? It is these kind of sentiments that led us to exactly where we are now. How about what WE or Ukraine can swallow? Any negotiated settlement cannot come at the expense of Ukraine’s security. Ukraine Must have a security GAURANTEE. Not an ASSURANCE. NATO membership? Treaty condition? It doesn’t matter what but that can’t be a negotiable trade off. Anything else is just a breathing space for the next war. Appeasement of Putin fuelled by his sentiments led to his calculation that he could get away with invading Ukraine.
    -Cluster Bombs. This is an inevitable result of Western reluctance to fully equip Ukraine in a timely manner. This has delayed the counteroffensive and endangered it’s effectiveness through the Ukrainian’s having a lack of air superiority. The US has supplied them under very strict conditions. This is a price of the West’s failure. The bigger story is the US supplying long range rockets. But this isn’t talked about because of liberal minded moral outrage over cluster bombs. Whereas my liberal minded moral outrage is more against a Fascist state invading it’s neighbour and other liberals being worried about upsetting that same Fascist state.

  • Zachary Adam Barker 9th Jul '23 - 10:20pm

    -We should not be so concerned with what will upset Russia.
    -Ukraine needs a security Guarantee. Assurances, like the Budapest Memorandum, are a dead letter. Russia needs to be told straight out that either they will face Ukraine in NATO and Article 5 or NATO protection as significant as that. That should be the absolute minimum or any negotiated peace is a waste of time.
    -The deployment of Cluster Bombs is a direct result of Western failure to fully equip Ukraine in a timely manner. This failure has delayed the counteroffensive and compromised the Ukrainian’s air superiority. This leaves few good options left. Don’t want more of these deployed? Then it is time to get Western European economies on war production levels and give the Ukrainians the tools to finish the job.
    -Do you know what outrages me more than a country defending itself from an invading Fascist power? The Fascist power invading the country and people still worrying about not upsetting that same Fascist power.

  • The leader of the Wagner private military corporation, Yevgeny Prigozhin, in a fit of pique decided to lay bare the lies used by Moscow to justify the Russian invasion of Ukraine PRIGOZHIN TOLD THE TRUTH ABOUT PUTIN’S WAR IN UKRAINE
    “The invasion was nothing more than a massive land grab by the Russian oligarchy, designed to enrich the country’s powerful elites while poor Russians served as cannon fodder. Russian claims that a Nazi regime in Ukraine, backed by NATO, was about to attack Russia were lies..The war was started by the Russian oligarchy to benefit themselves and gain power.”
    “The Ministry of Defense is trying to…spin the story that there were insane levels of aggression from the Ukrainian side and that they were going to attack us together with the whole NATO bloc. The truth was that “there was nothing extraordinary happening on the eve of February 24, the day last year when Russian invaded. Ukraine was not planning any kind of attack against Russia.”
    Russia’s invasion was started for a completely different reason. What was the war for? The war was needed for Shoigu to receive a hero star. … The oligarchic clan that rules Russia needed the war.
    “…the invasion began even as Zelenskyy and Ukraine were eager for peace. The Ukrainian leader “was ready for agreements. All that needed to be done was to get off Mount Olympus and negotiate with him.”
    Prigozhin thus punctured the main argument used by Russian propagandists and their Western lackeys: that NATO’s eastward expansion since the end of the Cold War caused the war in Ukraine.”

  • I am old enough to remember the Iraq war and the immense propaganda push to justify it, WMD and the rest, all of which turned out to have been made up. And it’s not just Iraq – the NeoCons who for 30 years have controlled much of US, and therefore western foreign policy, have a remarkably bad record. So why do so many keep believing their latest tall stories?

    The answer to that is probably that most western media now often doesn’t get beyond taking dictation from official sources and that should worry all Liberals.

    For example and far an informed alterative view, listen to what the highly regarded and successful retired (and hence able to speak his mind) Colonel Douglas Macgregor has to say about Ukraine.


    It’s 37 minutes but I found it listenable to at 1.75x speed.

  • Steve Trevethan 10th Jul '23 - 12:49pm

    Thanks to Gordon for his attachment which is the most coherent account of the Ukrainian situation so far read!

  • Steve Trevethan 10th Jul '23 - 12:52pm

    Might a more accurate label for N A T O be “The American Empire”?

  • Peter Hirst 10th Jul '23 - 3:07pm

    When Russia is defeated there will be less need for NATO as long as the peace settlement ensures it is never in a position to threaten its neighbouring countries again. Ukraine will need assistance to recover and rebuild. It can decide then by referendum whether to seek to join the military alliance.

  • Colonel Douglas Macgregor belongs with that group of American isolationists that have always argued to keep the USA out of any military involvement overseas.
    Macgregor was a appointee in the Trump administration where he courted controversy with his views on minorities,claiming that Muslim refugees were “unwanted invaders” coming to Europe “with the goal of eventually turning Europe into an Islamic state.”
    In other comments, he repeatedly advocated to institute martial law at the US-Mexico border and “shoot people” if necessary. He also questioned US involvement in World War II. Among his recent claims is that the Biden administration is bringing in non-White immigrants as part of a “grand plan” to have them outnumber White Americans of European ancestry in the United States.
    Trump appointee on West Point Board spreads conspiracy that Biden is replacing White people of European ancestry
    He has consistently predicted that Ukraine would be overwhelmingly defeated in a matter of days since the beginning of the war in 2022. Despite being wrong on almost every prediction, he has a audience among Fox news viewers and Trump supporters in the US.
    Ukraine has been attacked by a criminal regime just as Poland was in 1939. Whether the financial support and munitions supply by the democracies will enable Ukraine to retain its independence remains to be seen. They may yet succumb to the same fate as Poland after WW2. If so, the European continent will be a far more militarised and dangerous place than what we have experienced in the decades since the end of the cold war.

  • Jenny Barnes 10th Jul '23 - 10:31pm

    I’d recommend this:
    (other bookshops are available!)
    if you want to understand the war a bit better.

  • Steve Trevethan 11th Jul '23 - 8:09am

    Here is a detailed article on mediation for peace with significant reference to the conflict in Ukraine.

  • >” When Russia is defeated there will be less need for NATO”

    Finally bringing to an end the Cold War would have ramifications on what has perhaps become institutionaled thinking, about NATO’s purpose. Whilst NATO was formed against the backdrop of a Soviet Union, it also was intended as a means to end the conflicts between European states ie. Its members.

    Thus I suggest NATO could be viewed as being more akin to the Single Market than something that could be subsumed wholly into the EU.

    If Russia were to become a NATO member, NATO would have a new border with China.

  • Zachary Adam Barker 11th Jul '23 - 10:51pm

    ” When Russia is defeated there will be less need for NATO”

    Wrong. We will always need collective security. NATO’s values goes beyond Russian politics.

    “I am old enough to remember the Iraq war and the immense propaganda push to justify it, WMD and the rest, all of which turned out to have been made up. And it’s not just Iraq ”

    I am old enough to remember this too. But I am smart enough to appreciate that the Iraq War 2003 case has gone to the heads of many liberal thinkers when thinking about other foreign policy cases.

    You speak of propaganda about WMD in 2003. And yet too few progressive minded people give credit to Western Intelligence now. They were absolutely correct that a Russian invasion of Ukraine was imminent and almost predicted when it would happen until the day it happened. But most Western journalists doubted this. Why? The Iraq War 2003 AGAIN. Foreign Policy cannot be solely determined by one case.

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