Last week, a number of important geopolitical developments took place: Putin finally revealed that he was in total desperation and rushed to announce that he was annexing not only the occupied but also unoccupied, and even liberated, parts of Ukraine; he openly threatened with a nuclear strike because, according to him, Russia is at war with NATO, which has allegedly attacked Russia in Ukraine; and, at the same time, Ukraine has liberated and reclaimed the important city of Lyman and has submitted to the West its application for the immediate accession to NATO.
All this and more have been discussed in detail during different seminars, conferences, and study days.
During these meetings, I managed to formulate some important points for myself, one of which I would like to present here: why should the West immediately support Ukraine’s membership in the NATO Alliance?
For us in Lithuania, it is self-evident that Ukraine must be admitted to NATO immediately. However, our task is broader here: we must fuel this debate with arguments that would convince the wider West of this argument.
Let me present some of such arguments.
I am certain that today it is no longer enough for us to look back with regret at the 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest, where, despite the support of the United States, NATO did not agree to grant MAP to Ukraine and Sakartvelo (Georgia), which was needed to protect these countries from the Russian aggressions that followed. This is a fair historical reminder; however, new arguments are also needed to meet the challenges of today and the immediate future.
It is worth remembering that NATO, as the Western military defence organisation, was created in 1949 to stop Stalin’s dream of expanding the Russian Empire to entire Western Europe.
After the Second World War, Ukraine is the first country on the European continent to have courageously stopped on the battlefield the new dreams of the Stalin/Putin empire expanding westwards.
Even without NATO membership, Ukraine has already proved that it has the courage and power to do the main job of NATO: stopping Russia’s imperial dreams and ambitions. We do not have the answer to whether NATO would be able to do this without Ukraine’s membership.
Therefore, it is not Ukraine that should apply to join NATO, but NATO that should ask and invite Ukraine to join the Alliance. At a time when Ukraine is showing unparalleled courage, it is time for the NATO Alliance to show that it has the political courage to admit Ukraine to its membership.
So far, two main arguments have been prevailing in the West as to why Ukraine’s membership in the Alliance has not been supported. Firstly, it has been loudly proclaimed that Ukraine’s military must meet NATO standards. Secondly, although not announcing this loudly, it has simply been feared that Putin would react fiercely to NATO’s decision to admit Ukraine.
Both arguments have now completely lost their value.
First of all, the Ukrainian military has clearly demonstrated on victorious military fronts that its moral and military preparedness is far above all NATO standards. The Ukrainian army is undoubtedly the strongest on the European continent among all democracies. After the war, Ukrainian officers should be invited to serve as instructors in all NATO countries. Therefore, the NATO Alliance would simply be irrational not to reinforce its defence potential with such Ukrainian resources.
Secondly, the Ukrainians have already demonstrated that the ‘Putin factor’ is also no longer relevant to NATO’s enlargement. Obviously, there is little point in the West to fear Putin’s military conventional power because the Ukrainians have already proved how small this conventional power is. And it is simply not possible to be scared of Putin’s nuclear blackmail because such Western fear would only encourage Putin actually to use nuclear weapons. After all, Putin himself is already declaring that he is at war with the whole of NATO in Ukraine, so Ukraine’s membership would not create anything new in Putin’s reaction and rhetoric. On the other hand, Putin has also already proved that he does not believe his own propaganda that NATO’s approach to Russia’s borders supposedly threatens Russia’s security. When, thanks to Putin’s aggression against Ukraine, Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO, Putin reacted with complete indifference, even though Finland’s border with Russia is as long as Ukraine’s.
Finally, yet another argument for why the West should not postpone its decision on Ukraine’s membership of the Alliance: such a decision could foster Russia’s post-Putin transition to democracy. The Putin regime may soon no longer be able to withstand defeats and may collapse. Putin has tried for twenty years to foster nostalgia for the days of imperial power, thus successfully zombifying the ordinary Russian people. The West must ensure that not only Putin’s regime but also his cherished ‘imperial dream’, collapses in the near future. This requires not only a Ukrainian victory but also a clear demonstration that the great Russian ‘dream’ of the empire one day returning to Ukraine no longer has nor will ever have chances to materialise because Ukraine will soon become a member of NATO.
As the West finally destroys Russia’s imperial dreams, it must also help the Russian people acquire a new dream: the dream of normal, European life in Russia itself. The West can do this by creating the example of Ukraine’s success and showing it to Russia. For this, Ukraine needs not only Western arms and NATO membership but also the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Ukraine as well as Ukraine’s membership in the European Union.
For all this to happen, one thing is needed: Western geopolitical courage. So far, this has been a major deficit. We need to hope that Ukraine will help the West to solve this Western problem too.