by Ted Galen Carpenter Posted on
In one of the great foreign policy blunders of modern times, U.S. and European leaders repeatedly disregarded Vladimir Putin’s warnings that Russia would never tolerate Ukraine becoming a NATO military asset. Because of resistance from the French and German governments (which had as much to do with Ukraine’s chronic corruption as with concerns about Russia’s reaction), the Alliance delayed offering Kyiv a Membership Action Plan – an essential step toward membership. Nevertheless, at the 2008 summit in Bucharest, NATO’s existing members ostentatiously insisted that “someday” Ukraine would join the Alliance, and they repeated that pledge on numerous occasions thereafter.
Worse, Western officials typically insisted that Russia would have nothing to say about the matter. Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s Secretary General, was especially blunt and arrogant on that score. He summarily rejected Moscow’s demands in late 2021 that NATO provide binding security guarantees to Russia, including a commitment that Ukraine would never be offered membership, and that NATO military forces would not be deployed in that country. Stoltenberg’s response could not have been more uncompromising. “NATO has an open-door policy. This is enshrined in NATO’s founding treaty … The message today to Russia is that it is for Ukraine as a sovereign nation to decide its own path. And for the 30 NATO allies to decide when Ukraine is ready to become a member.”
Western officials implicitly assumed that Russia could be intimidated and eventually compelled to accept Ukraine as part of NATO. They dismissed the Kremlin’s increasingly pointed warnings that efforts to make Kyiv an Alliance asset would cross a red line that violated Russia’s security. Their assumption that Moscow would tamely accept a NATO presence inside Russia’s core security zone proved to be spectacularly wrong, and Ukraine is now paying a very high price in treasure and blood for their miscalculation.
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