In the face of Russia’s massive military buildup near its border with Ukraine, and during diplomatic discussions between Russia and members of the transatlantic alliance to try to de-escalate the crisis, one issue of stark disagreement is the possibility of Ukraine -– and other Eastern European countries -- joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
“It is very important that Ukraine can never join NATO in the future,” said Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov after the conclusion of the bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue between the United States and Russia. “Neither Ukraine nor Georgia should become members of the North Atlantic Alliance.”
For U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who headed the U.S. delegation, that issue is a non-starter: “We will not allow anyone to slam closed NATO’s ‘Open Door’ policy, which has always been central to the NATO Alliance,” she said after the meeting. “We were unequivocal: We do not make decisions for other countries. We will not agree that any country should have a veto over any other country when it comes to being part of the NATO Alliance.”
Speaking to reporters prior to last week’s series of diplomatic discussions, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Russia’s attempt to limit NATO expansion part of a “false narrative.”
“NATO never promised not to admit new members,” he said. “It could not and would not -- the ‘open door policy’ was a core provision of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty that founded NATO . . . . Membership in the Alliance has always been a decision between NATO and countries that aspire to belong -- no one else.”
Secretary Blinken added that in the Istanbul Charter for European Security signed in 1999, “Russia itself affirmed the right of countries to choose or change the security arrangements that they have, including alliances.”
And Secretary Blinken pointed out that “Russia is now demanding that both the United States and NATO sign treaties to withdraw NATO forces stationed in the territory of Allies in Central and Eastern Europe and to prohibit Ukraine from ever joining NATO.”
During a recent television interview, Secretary Blinken said that one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s objectives “is to re-exert a sphere of influence over countries that previously were part of the Soviet Union . . . That’s unacceptable,” he declared. “That was a recipe for instability, a recipe for conflict, a recipe that led to world wars. We’re not going back to that.”