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US army soldiers stand in formation next to US Army armoured vehicle as they take part in a NATO joint military tactical training exercise with Bulgaria’s army at Novo Selo military ground on April 21, 2022. (Photo by Nikolay DOYCHINOV / AFP) (Photo by NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP via Getty Images)
Nato members struggle for unity on Ukraine

Nato members struggle for unity on Ukraine

US army soldiers stand in formation next to US Army armoured vehicle as they take part in a NATO joint military tactical training exercise with Bulgaria’s army at Novo Selo military ground on April 21, 2022. (Photo by Nikolay DOYCHINOV / AFP) (Photo by NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP via Getty Images)

Long stories short

  • The US and India announced defence and technology deals as Modi and Biden met in Washington. 
  • A Moscow court rejected an appeal by WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich against his pre-trial detention.
  • Hasbro said it was relaunching the 1990s robotic Furby toy.

Ukraine tests Nato

This week the UK’s foreign secretary said Britain would support accelerated Nato membership for Ukraine, and that all Nato’s members agreed Ukraine had shown it was ready for the kind of fast-track used for Finland. 

So what? This was not quite true. There are significant differences between Nato members including the US on how and how fast Ukraine should be allowed to join the alliance, which is a problem for the world’s democracies.

  • Members do agree it’s critically important for Nato to present a united front on Ukraine at its conference next month in Vilnius.
  • Ukraine, the UK and most East European members say that unity needs to be in favour of fast-track membership without the need to implement a Membership Action Plan (MAP) of the kind traditionally drawn up for prospective members…
  • … because anything less would be seen by Russia as a signal the West had given up on Ukraine, with the risk of Moscow expanding its aggression elsewhere in Europe. 

But with two and a half weeks to go, Nato isn’t there yet:  

  • Joe Biden said earlier this month he will not “make it easy” for Ukraine to join Nato.
  • Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary general, says – by contrast – Ukraine doesn’t need to implement the MAP to join.
  • Poland and Lithuania insist Ukraine should join Nato as soon as possible while France and Germany say unspecified “security guarantees” should be enough.

For their own part Ukraine’s leaders insist security guarantees should be a prelude not an alternative to actual Nato membership for Ukraine, whose army has already proved highly effective including in the use of Nato equipment.

The options. At least three models are being discussed for Ukraine-Nato collaboration (or, more precisely, for avoiding Ukraine’s instant integration into the alliance, which members agree isn’t possible while the country is at war): 

  • Finland joined Nato without a MAP as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 
  • Sweden will do the same assuming it can overcome Turkey’s objections. (To note: these objections, based on Sweden’s hosting of Kurdish refugees whom Turkey’s President Erdogan calls terrorists, look increasingly hypocritical given his own close political, business and military ties with Putin’s Russia). 
  • Israel is not a Nato member but is a nuclear power designated a major non-Nato ally by the US, from which it receives large-scale military and economic assistance.

Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in the 1990s in return for security assurances (in the Budapest Memorandum), and now has neither the weapons nor security. Hence its position that security guarantees alone cannot substitute for a promise of full Nato membership. 

American drag. The US is reluctant to let Ukraine join Nato because of the risk of direct US-Russia conflict which could escalate to nuclear war. Biden’s latest assessment is that the threat of Putin using tactical nuclear weapons is “real”, and Neil Melvin of the Royal United Services Institute says this approach will last until the risk of confrontation with Russia decreases. 

Catch 22. But if Ukraine doesn’t join Nato sooner rather than later, the risks for global security are much higher – as they became after the 2008 Nato Bucharest Summit when Ukraine and Georgia did not get the MAP, and Russia immediately started a series of wars and annexations. 

A simple choice. Ukraine’s Nato integration is not just a question of Ukraine’s security, but of Nato’s borders. What Russia has made clear is there can no longer be any room for confusion about where they lie because the fate of any “grey zones” is for Moscow to control or occupy them. 

If Ukraine’s fast-track Nato integration plan fails, there will be 600,000 square kilometres on the European continent where Russia will feel free to do whatever it wants subject only to the Ukrainian army’s ability to fight back.

The Russia-Ukraine war has already led to tectonic changes in the global economy, energy markets, not to mention a rolling humanitarian disaster. If the global power balance does not adapt with concrete progress towards Nato membership for Ukraine, the risk is that the war becomes eternal. 

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Photograph Nikolay Doychinov/AFP via Getty Images

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