After Russia annexed four Ukrainian regions last September, Kyiv announced a surprise bid to join the NATO military alliance.
Fast forward to July last year and Ukraine is still waiting. Existing members Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro and North Macedonia back the bid. Euronews reported.
Even if Ukraine win, they may still not be accepted by NATO. Below are some reasons why Ukraine is unlikely to be joining NATO any time soon.
1. Ukraine ‘not REALLY ready’ for NATO membership
Before they can join NATO, countries must first meet certain economic, political and military standards.
According to Prof Williams, Ukraine remains a ‘good way’ from fulfilling these membership criteria, pointing to ‘problems’ with the country’s ‘democratic institutions’ and ‘anti-corruption processes’.
‘We are not many years away from Ukrainian elections being pretty corrupt things … and the massive street protests that tried to put Ukraine on the path towards becoming a modern, liberal, democratic European state,’ he said.
‘[This] path now looks irrevocable. Putin has guaranteed that. But it is a long path, Ukraine’s political institutions have work to do.’
Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union (EU) faces similar difficulties, with concerns surrounding whether it will meet the bloc’s standards and expectations.
Yet there are hopes that the war will improve Ukraine’s ability to meet NATO’s requirements, especially militarily.
‘Ukraine is going to come out of this with probably one of the best armies in NATO because it has received lots of Western equipment and training,’ said Shea. This will make it a ‘more attractive candidate’ in the long run, he added.
2. It could be difficult to get all NATO members to back Ukraine’s bid
Under NATO rules, new members can only be admitted if all 30 members agree. Even if one disagrees it can obstruct — or even derail — the whole process.
Sweden and Finland have encountered this difficulty with their own NATO membership requests, with Turkey raising initial objections.
In the same way, Hungary could prove to be a problem for Ukraine’s membership bid.
The countries, which share a land border, have a long-running dispute about the rights of Ukraine’s Hungarian-speaking minority.
Since 2017, when Ukraine made Ukrainian the required language in primary schools, Hungary has repeatedly blocked Ukraine’s attempt to integrate with both NATO and the EU.
‘Orban is the kind of guy who will make trouble if he feels he’s got popular support,’ said Shea. ‘Look at his record in the EU.’
Orban has repeatedly criticised the West’s strategy toward Russia and positioned himself as an ally of Putin, slamming the use of sanctions and striking gas deals with Moscow.
Opinions in other European capitals are also an issue.
‘The big question is whether France and Germany, what you may call the wets of the [NATO] alliance, would agree,’ said William Alberque, director of strategy, technology and arms control at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank.
‘Would they be willing to go that far?’
In 2008, both Paris and Berlin blocked attempts by Ukraine and Georgia to join the alliance, while in February 2022 — just a week before the invasion — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Ukraine’s membership was not on the cards.