Russia Warns NATO Over Ukraine's Possible Membership in Military Bloc

Gulnar Abbasova Feature 22 October 2021
Russia Warns NATO Over Ukraine's Possible Membership in Military Bloc

A Russian deputy foreign minister has warned NATO that any move towards Ukraine's membership in the bloc will have consequences.

“Ukraine's accession to NATO would be an extremely dangerous step, and it would force Moscow to react,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko said on October 21, in a reply to RIA news agency’s question about U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's comments on a visit to Ukraine this week. 

Earlier, Austin, commenting on the prospects for Ukraine's membership in the alliance, said that third countries do not have the right to veto Ukraine's accession to NATO and that Washington supports Kyiv in its aspirations. Rudenko noted that this is not the first time assessments of this nature have come from the lips of NATO representatives or U.S. officials, adding that this approach is generally reflected in charter documents. 

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said on October 21 that the Western-backed military development of Ukraine posed a serious threat to Russia, two days after the US defense secretary staged a show of support for Kyiv and encouraged its aspiration to join NATO.

“Formal membership (of Ukraine) in NATO may not take place, but it is not necessary to be a NATO member to deploy American, British military infrastructure on the territory of Ukraine”, Putin told the Valdai Discussion Club, and added “and this really poses a threat to Russia. We are aware of that.” 

In mid-June, a NATO statement confirmed Ukraine's eventual entry into the military alliance. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's administration has urged NATO to speed up the country's entry through a Membership Action Plan (MAP), after a standoff with Russia this year that saw Russia mass additional troops and military equipment near Ukraine's borders. 

"Every day we prove that we are ready to be in the alliance more than most of the countries of the European Union," Zelensky said, adding that most of Russia's troops had yet to withdraw, and that Russia was dragging its feet on facilitating a meeting with Putin for no clear reason. About 11,000 troops had left and 95,000 remained, he underlined. 

This week Russia severed diplomatic relations with NATO after the alliance kicked out eight members of its mission there for alleged spying. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that staff at NATO’s military mission in Moscow would be stripped of their accreditation as of November 1

“As a result of NATO’s deliberate moves, we have practically no conditions for elementary diplomatic work and in response to NATO’s actions we suspend the work of our permanent mission to NATO, including the work of the chief military envoy,” Lavrov said.

The eight Russian officials are expected to leave Brussels by the end of October, which will reduce the size of the Russian mission to NATO in the Belgian capital to just 10 staff members. The expulsion of the Russians was reported earlier by Sky News, which said Moscow’s mission to the alliance headquarters in Brussels would be halved “in response to suspected malign Russian activities, including killings and espionage”. 

Later in September, the Kremlin warned Ukraine and NATO that any expansion of military infrastructure in its neighboring country would cross red lines. 

Former CIA station chief and analyst Philip Giraldi told Sputnik that the Biden Administration has sent every possible signal to indicate that it favors the inclusion of Ukraine and Georgia in the security alliance. 

"We can expect the pressure to increase in the next several months and there is no NATO member who will be engaged enough on the issue to try to oppose it," Giraldi said.

Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, has long sought closer ties with the West and its militaries. The United States has been Ukraine’s most powerful backer since Russia annexed Crimea and backed separatists fighting in Ukraine's east in 2014. The outbreak of war the same year between Russian separatists and government forces in eastern Ukraine caused the killing of 14,000 people.

However, Moscow denies having troops in eastern Ukraine or sending troops and military hardware to prop up two proxy separatist governments in Donbas. It blames Kyiv for the lack of progress towards peace and denies carrying out cyberattacks.

Ukraine sees NATO accession as a key way to bolster its defenses against Moscow, which has accused the alliance of seeking to make inroads in its traditional sphere of influence.

Ukraine’s pro-Western leadership closely cooperates with NATO, and in 2019, Kyiv adopted constitutional changes spelling out its aspirations to join the military alliance as well as the European Union. 

But Ukraine has been frustrated by its slow progress towards NATO membership, especially after a border standoff with Russian troops this year. Washington has urged Kyiv to implement reforms in the defense sector to become eligible. 

The Kremlin chief has consistently made clear that NATO membership for Ukraine would be a red line for Moscow. This situation has developed at a time when relations between East and West are already strained. Russia accuses NATO of provocatively expanding its military infrastructure closer to its borders.

NATO defense ministers agreed on a new master plan to defend against any potential Russian attack on multiple fronts. NATO spent decades focused on Russia, however, under Joe Biden it is increasingly shifting its attention to China.

Practical cooperation in the framework of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), established as a mechanism for consultation, had been suspended after 2014, though a few consultative meetings had taken place over the recent years.