A Ukrainian marine provides security during a cordon and search mission during exercise Rapid Trident 2014 in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Sept. 23, 2014.

A Ukrainian marine provides security during a cordon and search mission during exercise Rapid Trident 2014 in Yavoriv, Ukraine, Sept. 23, 2014. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua Leonard/Released

US 'Unequivocal’ to Russia on Right of Ukraine, Others, to Join NATO

U.S. diplomats rejected Moscow's demand that Kiev be forever barred from the Western alliance.

Washington will take no action to prevent Ukraine from entering the NATO alliance, despite Russia’s urging, the United States confirmed to Russia on Monday. It’s the latest sign that the tense standoff between the U.S. and its allies and Russia will continue to drag on. 

In December, Russia issued a list of demands to be met before it would consider removing the 100,000-plus troops on the Ukraine border who stand poised for a potential expansion of Russia’s nearly 8-year-old war on Ukraine. One of those demands was barring Ukraine from joining the NATO alliance.  

Some Western observers have suggested that the United States give in to the request. “That might stave off the looming conflict and save Ukraine,” Lyle J. Goldstein, the director of Asia Engagement at Defense Priorities, wrote in Defense One in December. 

But on Monday, during a conversation between U.S. and Russian diplomats, the United States reiterated that barring Ukraine from joining NATO is a non-starter for discussion. 

“We were unequivocal…We do not agree that any country should have a veto over any other country when it comes to being part of the NATO alliance. NATO has its own process,” for inclusion, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told reporters.

Ukraine has long said that it intends to eventually join the NATO alliance, and in 2008, during its Bucharest Summit, NATO officials said that both Ukraine and Georgia could eventually become members if they chose. They haven’t wavered from that stance since. 

Ukraine has a number of exercises with the United States, such as Rapid Trident. The two countries have also conducted joint operations in Afghanistan. 

In June 2020, NATO officially upgraded Ukraine’s status to an enhanced opportunities partner, which officially put Ukraine on the shortlist for NATO membership, along with Australia, Finland, Georgia, Jordan, and Sweden. But that does not mean an invitation is inevitable.

In November 2020, Alyona Getmanchuk, director of the Ukraine-based New Europe Center, said Ukraine could go to the next step of becoming a NATO member, receiving the NATO membership action plan, or MAP, as early as 2023. 

But a European security expert who asked to remain anonymous said Monday they “highly doubt that” would happen. 

“All decisions at NATO are made at consensus, so the North Atlantic Council would have to agree to grant Ukraine a MAP, which literally one country could stop from happening,” the expert said. 

Sherman and her Russian counterpart also discussed the placement of missiles in Europe. The demise of the IMF Treaty in 2019 broadens the type of missiles either the United States or Russia could stage in Europe. The U.S. has placed an Aegis Ashore radar unit in Romania and plans to base a similar one in Poland this year.

While the subject did come up, Sherman said, “This was not a negotiation that we were putting ideas on the table and a long way to go. But of course there are ongoing concerns about intermediate range missiles.”