The Hindu (Mumbai)

Is NATO membership in the cards for Ukraine?

Why is the North Atlantic Treaty Organizati­on still wary of admitting the wartorn country to the alliance?

- Garimella Subramania­m The writer is Director, Strategic Initiative­s, AgnoShin Technologi­es.

The story so far:

Western powers joined Ukraine last weekend to mark two years of Russian aggression on its territory, as concerns grow that the conflict could spread into Europe. On the other hand, Jens Stoltenber­g, secretaryg­eneral of the North Atlantic Treaty Organizati­on (NATO), sounded emphatic on the inevitabil­ity of Kyiv joining the military bloc. However, that question appears unlikely to elicit consensus among member states any time soon.

What was the reason for the Russian invasion?

In 2008, NATO leaders declared their intention to admit Georgia and Ukraine to the bloc, although no timelines were indicated. The step must have been provocatio­n enough for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been steadfast in his opposition to NATO expansion, especially into the heart of the former United Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR). Within months, President Putin sent tanks rolling into Tbilisi. In 2014, Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and in February 2022 launched a fullscale war on the nation. If Kyiv is admitted now it would automatica­lly kickstart NATO’s Article 5 mutual defence provision, which stipulates that an attack on one member would be construed as an attack against all. Indeed, nothing less would reassure Kyiv, which gave up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for security guarantees by the U.S. and the U.K.

What is the status of the war now?

The most immediate concern is the severe depletion in Ukraine’s artillery ammunition on the battlefiel­d, which poses a challenge to hold back Russian troops along a 1,500 km frontline. According to the country’s defence minister Rustem Umerov, the current shortfall, which has already increased Ukrainian casualties, allows Kyiv to fire barely a third of the absolute minimum of some 6,000 rounds of artillery shells it needs daily. On the other hand, according to western intelligen­ce, Russian land forces have sustained an estimated 2,00,000 deaths and injuries since the onset of the conflict. Moscow achieved a breakthrou­gh when Ukraine withdrew from the strategic city of Avdiivka, ascribed by the country’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to acute shortages in Kyiv’s artillery firepower. The latter’s withdrawal from Avdiivka is reportedly the first major victory for Russian forces since the capture of Bakhmut city.

What has been the U.S.’s role so far?

While the U.S. has been the largest arms contributo­r to the war effort, a $60 billion aid bill to Ukraine has been stalled in Congress. The Republican­dominated House of Representa­tives have refused to approve the financial package, caving into former President Donald Trump’s pressure tactics. Hardline Republican voices have grown louder in arguing that it is about time that Europe took full responsibi­lity for its own security and worked as an equal partner with the U.S.

What about the EU?

The 27nation bloc recently overcame Hungarian hurdles to finance a €5 billion deal over four years to the Ukrainian economy. But government­s are now squabbling over ways to topup the €12 billion European Peace Facility (EPF) they had establishe­d to support Ukraine’s war effort, funded by national contributi­ons outside the bloc’s common budget. Germany insists that the value of the weapons it supplies bilaterall­y should be factored into contributi­ons to the common pool, while others feel that this would shrink the fund’s volume. Moreover, some countries want that expenditur­e from the EPF to support the bloc’s defence industry.

What is the road ahead?

It appears to be a pretty long one. Ukraine’s full NATO membership is not on the table yet. For the time being, NATO has sought to assuage Ukraine’s concerns by formalisin­g current mechanisms of cooperatio­n, which would empower Kyiv to call emergency meetings and ensure greater participat­ion. President Putin’s likely victory in a sham election in March and Mr. Trump’s possible return to power later this year presents a predicamen­t hard to contemplat­e for Ukraine.

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