What Countries Are Neutral Now? Putin Wants Ukraine to Join the List

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Mar. 16 2022, Published 12:29 p.m. ET

One of the key demands of Russian President Vladimir Putin has been that Ukraine remains neutral and doesn't join NATO. What does neutrality mean in global politics and which countries are neutral now?

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To get a sense of neutrality, we’ll have to go back in history. During the cold war days, countries either aligned with the Western bloc, which was led by the U.S., or with the Soviet bloc. Some countries opted to stay out of both the alliances and in 1961, 120 developing countries came together to form the NAM (Non-Aligned Movement). These countries decided to not formally align themselves with any of the blocs.

The Non-Aligned Movement lost relevance.

The NAM lost relevance after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Even when the group was at its peak, it didn't carry much weight, and subsequently, its member states aligned with one of the blocs.

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A map showing NAM member countries in dark blue and observers in light blue.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

For example, India, which was a founding member of NAM, signed a treaty with the Soviet Union in 1971 before its war with arch-rival Pakistan. Now, India has also has moved closer to the U.S. and is one of the four nations in the Quad, which has been formed to contain China.

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What is required for a country to be neutral?

Often, countries decide to be neutral in a particular conflict. However, some countries formally decide to be neutral and not take positions in any armed conflict. Neutrality doesn't mean demilitarization and even neutral nations can have a military.

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What countries are neutral now?

The following countries are neutral now:

  • Switzerland
  • Finland
  • Malta
  • Vatican City
  • Sweden
  • Austria
  • Turkmenistan
  • Liechtenstein
  • Costa Rica

Apart from these countries, Japan and Ireland are also seen as neutral countries. Many of these countries’ neutrality is enshrined in their respective constitutions.

Switzerland is the oldest neutral country.

Switzerland, the oldest neutral country in the world, became neutral in 1815. The country was neutral in World War I and World War II but it does maintain a strong army. However, Switzerland broke that tradition and froze Russian assets after the Ukraine invasion. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has also prompted both Sweden and Finland to consider joining NATO.

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Why does Putin want Ukraine to be neutral?

Putin wants Ukraine to be neutral and not join NATO. Russia and Ukraine share a large border and Putin doesn't want NATO forces moving so close to Russia. Also, since NATO is a military alliance built on the principle of collective defense, Russia attacking Ukraine would have meant war with all the NATO nations.

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Japan has also been gradually giving up its neutrality amid growing threats from China. The two countries have a territorial dispute and Japan has also joined the Quad.

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Neutrality is being questioned amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also prompted neutral states to take a relook at their policies. Austria’s Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said, “Even if Austria is a neutral state from a military point of view, we are not neutral when it comes to violence."

He added, “When it comes to the territorial integrity of a sovereign state, we will never remain silent, but always stand up for it resolutely.”

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