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Is This Really About NATO?

February 16, 2022 9:37 a.m.

On its face, the current Ukraine crisis is over the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO. Russia wants a binding commitment that that will never happen. The U.S. and NATO refuse to offer such a firm and binding commitment. What’s easy to miss if you haven’t been following this story over the last two decades is that Ukraine has never gotten an invitation to join NATO. Not even close. There’s really no reason to think such an offer is or would have been coming any time soon. Successive U.S. Presidents have not been willing to take that step, even as they’ve worked to support Western-leaning governments in Kyiv. It’s been seen — rightly, I think — as just a bridge too far for the reasons I noted yesterday. Indeed, the backdrop to the current high stakes brinksmanship over whether Ukraine will be allowed to join NATO is that it’s a discussion of such a highly notional possibility. That fact must come up again and again in high level discussions.

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