Thursday, April 9, 2015

Ukraine Eyeing NATO Membership -- the Ante is Upped for Putin

In 2010 Ukraine scrapped its plans to join NATO after pro-Russian Yakunovich was elected president.

Even after the Euromaidan protests that sent Yakunovich fleeing from the country, Ukraine's new government announced no plans to join NATO.

But when one is invaded repeatedly by one's large neighbor, sentiments change.

Ukraine's national security council has declared its support for joining NATO within the next 5 years, and parliament officially dropped Ukraine's "non-aligned" status. Ukrainian support for joining has jumped from 17% to over 50%. President Poroshenko is expected to approve the plan.



Russia will be furious. Russian leadership has already declared in 2014 that Finland joining NATO "could start World War 3," and they'll be even less happy about Ukraine.

The move would set up a show-down over Crimea, which Ukraine and NATO will continue to declare as sovereign to Ukraine. It's unlikely to turn into a war, but would almost certainly mean a heavy NATO troop presence in Ukraine, especially near Russia's border, and an attempt to maneuver Russia into withdrawing from Crimea in a game of soft brinksmanship, I wager.

Russia may well make moves to intimidate Ukraine the way it did Georgia in 2008--although it has already marched into Ukraine several times and seems to be having the opposite effect. Most likely, Russia will issue fairly overt military threats contingent upon Ukraine joining NATO, which will either cow Ukraine or increase its urgency for the alliance.

It's also not 100% clear that NATO will allow Ukraine's entry in the midst of the crisis. NATO's Article 10 requires unanimous consent from all current members to allow a new one to join. The US is likely hungry for Ukrainian membership, but the core European powers that are currently fairly dependent on Russian oil and gas will be more reluctant.

That said, with Russia's economy reeling, "cutting off" oil and gas would be tantamount to imposing new sanctions on itself--an economic shooting of oneself in the foot. Russia is willing to tolerate much more pain than Germany and France, but it might not be able to afford cutting off the money flow from two of its biggest customers.

What we'll keep an eye on is specifically how Putin tries to flex Russia's military muscle (as its economic muscles weaken) to try to knock Ukraine back off the NATO track.
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