Why Does Russia Not Want Ukraine to Join NATO? Opposition, Explained

Mohit Oberoi, CFA - Author
By

Jan. 21 2022, Published 12:29 p.m. ET

Geopolitical tensions have been running high over the last few months. Tensions between China and Taiwan are at multi-decade highs. U.S.-China relations are also at the lowest level in several decades. However, the more pressing issue has been the fear of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia has been against NATO adding Ukraine as a member and has amassed thousands of troops at its border with Ukraine. Why does Russia not want Ukraine to join NATO?

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Russia-Ukraine tensions aren't new and the two countries have been at loggerheads for a long time. The situation deteriorated in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine.

Why is Russia against Ukraine joining NATO?

NATO is a Cold War-era organization. In those days, the Soviet block and NATO were fighting for global domination. Both blocks offered other countries their own vision of economic development and politics. While it was socialism and communism for the Soviet Union, NATO pushed forward capitalism and the democratic model.

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The defining feature of NATO is the principle of collective defensive, which in simple terms means that an attack on one country is an attack on all of the members. The principle, popularly known as Article 5, was first invoked after the 9/11 attacks.

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What's NATO's collective defense principal?

The collective defense agreement could be one of the reasons that Russia doesn't want Ukraine to join NATO. If Ukraine joins NATO, the country might also get military equipment from alliance members. Having U.S. troops or military equipment right next to its border is a red line for Russia.

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Russia has also been opposing NATO’s eastward expansion. Several countries that were once under the influence of the erstwhile Soviet Union are now NATO allies. For Russian President Vladimir Putin, the 1990s were the "decade of humiliation" for his country, which is something that he has been trying to undo. On a similar note, China is also looking to avenge what it sees as the "century of humiliation."

Russia sees former Soviet countries as its sphere of influence.

Russia sees the former Soviet constituents, which includes Ukraine, as its circle of influence and doesn't want them to pivot towards NATO. Putin is the undisputed leader in Russia and his muscular foreign and military policy is among the reasons that he's popular in Russia, despite reports of corruption against him.

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Putin has opposed Ukraine joining NATO for a long time.

Putin, who is an ex-KGB member, has opposed Ukraine’s joining NATO multiple times. At the Munich Security Conference in 2007, Putin said, “It is obvious that Nato expansion does not have any relation with the modernization of the alliance itself or with ensuring security in Europe.” He added, “On the contrary, it represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust.”

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Will NATO add Ukraine?

NATO hasn’t given any commitment on whether the block will add Ukraine as a member. However, if the block adds Ukraine, it would lead to additional deterioration in NATO-Russia ties. For NATO, China has increasingly replaced Russia as the biggest threat.

The U.S. has also put a focus on new groups like the Quad, which is a grouping of the U.S., Japan, India, and Australia. However, the escalating tensions at the Russia-Ukraine border underline the fact that Russia is still a potent risk for NATO allies, even though it might not have the economic might that China has right now.

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