NATO won’t let Ukraine join soon. Here’s why.

“The main objection would be: does such a move really contribute to stability in Europe, or would it contribute to destabilization?” said Douglas E. Lute, former US Ambassador to NATO. “I think it’s indisputable that there would be no consensus among the 30 members, even if all allies agree that Ukraine has the right to aspire to NATO membership.”

Stephen M. Walt, professor of international affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, said that even in the 1990s, when NATO enlargement was first proposed, many prominent American strategists are opposed to it for this reason. “That was the concern from the start – it wouldn’t be easy to do this in a way that didn’t threaten Russia,” he said.

Ukrainian leaders have not always insisted on joining NATO, and this has shaped the American approach.

Former President Viktor Yushchenko wanted to join the alliance, but Ukrainians became more reluctant after Russia invaded Georgia. His successor, Viktor Yanukovych, abandoned any membership campaign and promoted closer ties with Russia, even agreeing to allow Moscow to continue leasing a Black Sea naval port in Crimea.

Under the Obama administration, US officials encouraged Ukraine to sign a formal Association Agreement with the European Union rather than try to join NATO. Mr Putin pressured Mr Yanukovych to reject the deal, leading to the Euromaidan protests in 2013 that ultimately ousted Mr Yanukovych.

“A lot of American politics has been quite reactive due to the circumstances,” said Fiona Hill, a Russia expert at the Brookings Institution, who was senior director for Europe and Russia at the National Security Council under the President Donald J. Trump. “That has also changed due to changes in Ukraine itself in this regard.”

“Now you have a lot more feelings in Ukraine to join NATO,” she added.

Mr. Zelensky has pressed Mr. Biden several times on membership, including during his visit to the White House in September. “I would like to discuss here with President Biden his vision, his government’s vision on Ukraine’s chances of joining NATO and the timeline for that membership, if that is possible,” he said. sitting next to Mr. Biden.

Mr. Biden walked past those comments without responding.

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