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The annual meeting of NATO member and allies have bought significant frustrations for the Ukrainians. The visibly upset Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy shared his discontent with the lack of a timetable and criticized the “absurd” delay to accession. The use of ambiguous language by NATO members concerning Ukraine, compared with high-level discussions between NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, and Turkish President Erdogan regarding Sweden’s potential accession to the alliance, has contributed to Ukraine’s sense of disappointment. This stems from the perception that Sweden’s security environment differs significantly from that of Ukraine, yet significant efforts are being expended to facilitate Sweden’s entry into NATO. Despite widespread public endorsements for Ukraine’s membership, there remains a firm and unanimous consensus among 31 member states regarding the process and criteria for Ukraine’s prospective alliance affiliation.

The rationale behind the Ukrainian disappointment can be attributed to NATO’s repeated attempts to consider Sweden’s admission into the alliance. Additionally, member states’ use of vague language concerning future admission and the absence of a clear timetable for Ukraine’s admission has further contributed to this sentiment. However, the Turkish president’s remarks made after the deal hinted that Swedish accession may not be a done deal. The Swedish deal gave Ukraine a sense of suspicion and seriousness of NATO for Ukrainian accession into the treaty. The U.S. also called it premature for Ukraine’s membership and stressed that Ukraine is still not ready for membership as the U.S. views it too early for Ukraine to enter into the NATO alliance until the crisis is not resolved. Including Ukraine in NATO without solving outstanding issues would not just increase tension with Russia but could also potentially complicate the security dynamics.

The G-7 security assurances given to Ukrainians, which include advanced military equipment, training, intelligence sharing, and cyber defense are welcoming introduction to the Ukrainian military. However, this will not provide a significant security umbrella for NATO members to enjoy in the alliance and, it certainly is not a substitute for NATO membership.

However, the admission of Ukraine into the alliance could further increase hostility between Russia and NATO.

NATO’s repeated failure to offer a timetable for Ukraine’s membership may be a blessing in disguise, at least for the NATO alliance. NATO, possibly the most powerful military alliance in the world is keeping itself from engaging in an avoidable conflict. This is something Western leaders have in their mind as it would cause not just a prolonged conflict but also a protracted one. For the alliance to remain intact, this “fear and insecurity in every word ” as defined by former U.S diplomat John Kornblum, of NATO member states is justified. Russia could resort to significant actions in response to the potential expansion of NATO, particularly its former territories and near-abraod. This is a stance that Russia had conveyed previously, albeit with some level of acceptance in the past when several states from the Warsaw Pact joined NATO. Russia’s concern about having NATO right at its doorstep is also justifiable, as the presence of a formidable military alliance at the border could lead to tensions and, ultimately, the risk of conflict. Additionally,  John J. Mearsheimer already anticipated in 2014 that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ultimate objective was to reclaim the entire territory of Ukraine as part of his broader ambition to revive the old Soviet empire as well as other countries in Russia’s near-abroad. He also argued that NATO’s expansion eastward is the cause of Russian aggression. In other words, the West cannot incorporate Russia’s near-abroad into the sphere of influence without repercussions. Consequently, Russia’s actions in this conflict have established a precedent that any future attempts to exert influence over its nearby territories will be met with severe consequences.

However, if the current conflict remains deadlocked, there’s a possibility that dwindling public support in the West could pose challenges for Ukraine in terms of arms funding and supplies. For instance, in the U.S. public support has softened in 2023 as compared to last year. A similar trend can be seen in Europe as well and if the stalemate remains, this trend is unlikely to change. Consequently, this might pressure the states currently supporting Ukraine to engage in negotiations with Russia to seek a potential resolution to the conflict. Ultimately, if Ukraine were to become a NATO member, it would signify a colossal failure on Russia’s part, given that the core objective of this conflict has been to prevent Ukraine from aligning with the Western security alliance. If negotiations do occur between Western nations and Russia, Ukraine’s NATO membership could become a non-negotiable point for Russia.

In the end, NATO will persist in its reluctance and use of cryptic terms until this crisis is definitively resolved. The alliance is wary of being entangled in an avoidable conflict that could ultimately have global implications. Many experts view this conflict as long, and exhaustive which will unlikely end soon. This would mean the same will be the case for Ukraine’s membership in NATO. Many states have joined the Atlantic alliance before Ukraine and some more may likely join ahead over time. Although the decision of NATO to not give any timetable may be frustrating for the Ukrainians but it may be the one that makes the most sense until the conflict is not concluded and by the looks of it, the conflict is anything but concluded.

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