Shortcuts / 13 July 2023

NATO and Ukraine’s relationship

This week NATO held a summit of its leaders, with big consequences for the war in Ukraine. So in this Squiz Shortcut, we go back to basics and get you across NATO and its involvement in the Ukraine war so far, as well as what the military alliance has to do with the future of the war – and of Ukraine.

Lithuania kinda seems like a random choice to host such a significant meeting…
It does but it was actually quite symbolic – it’s a small nation in Eastern Europe that shares a border with Belarus and Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin has complained a fair bit about NATO coming too close to its borders, so hosting this summit there is a bit cheeky…

I’m guessing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was top of NATO’s agenda?
You got it. It’s fair to say the invasion has reshaped the military landscape of Europe and the world, and NATO leaders got together to discuss how they will keep responding to the conflict.

And to step things back – how did NATO come about?
The alliance formed after WWII – it started with 12 countries including the United Kingdom, France, the United States and Canada – but it has steadily added members throughout the decades.

What does it do?
So the point of the group is collective security – that is, nations banding together to deter attacks on any one of the members. And according to Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty, an attack on any member is considered an attack on all of the members.

So you wouldn’t want to pick a fight with a NATO member…
Nope, and Article 5 is a thing because NATO was originally intended as a way for nations to collectively defend themselves against aggression from the Soviet Union – that’s the name Russia had while it was still a bloc of communist nations.

Have NATO and Russia always had a frosty relationship?
They actually used to have a working relationship but NATO suspended the partnership after Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014.

And things went downhill from there?
Pretty much – of course, Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine at the start of 2022. Part of the reason Russia did that was because Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was friendly with NATO and Putin didn’t want Ukraine to join the alliance.

Because it would then have military support from all those other countries?
That’s right. From NATO’s perspective, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is exactly the kind of aggression that the alliance was set up to protect against. And while NATO hasn’t sent troops into Ukraine, it has been instrumental in helping Ukraine defend itself against Russian forces.

Like how?
Some support that has been offered by NATO members includes coordinating military supplies, training Ukrainian soldiers on how to use them, and donating more than a hundred billion dollars in military aid. But despite all that support, the war seems to be setting in for the long grind.

So where does NATO go from here?
It looks like it’s set to keep growing… Russia’s invasion prompted 2 countries to leave their NATO-neutral status and apply to join the alliance: Finland and Sweden.

And are they in?
So Finland officially joined in April of this year, while Sweden is very close to officially joining. There were a few issues to iron out with Turkey and Hungary initially not wanting Sweden to join but reports say that those are all dealt with now.

So the more the merrier?
Well on the face of it yes, because the more members you have in your collective security group, the bigger your fist and the bigger the deterrence. But it isn’t always the case that NATO just wants to add more members…

Why not?
Well, we’re seeing this play out with another nation that wants to join: Ukraine. In September last year, Ukraine formally applied to join NATO in September last year, but it’s a tricky one for NATO because of that collective security arrangement, where if one member is attacked, all members must defend it.

So will Ukraine ever become a member?
NATO says it can eventually but because Ukraine is currently in the middle of a conflict with Russia, there’s little appetite for inducting Ukraine as a NATO member right now.

Could that happen as soon as the conflict is over?
That’s what Zelensky wants but NATO is reluctant to add members who are too close to Russia because then any incursion from Russia would basically mean that all NATO members would have to go to war.

What if the conflict never ends?
That’s a dire outlook, but it does raise another problem which is that promising Ukraine membership as soon as the war is over could give Putin a reason not to end the war with Ukraine, so it can stop Ukraine from joining NATO.

So what was the outcome of this week’s big meeting?
This week’s communique from NATO leaders read that “Ukraine’s future is in NATO” and that “we will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the Alliance when Allies agree and conditions are met”. So basically, Ukraine is going to have to wait.

And are all NATO members united behind Ukraine?
Well, another part of the summit is that the alliance is trying to keep unified support behind Ukraine as the conflict drags on. But if they manage to do that, they get to create a really compelling story – that Russia and Putin tried to prevent NATO from growing but NATO became stronger instead.

Squiz recommends:

A explanation from the NATO website on Australia’s involvement with the military alliance

A map from CBS showing the nations currently in NATO

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