Why No One Wants Ukraine

When leaders from NATO and Russia met on Wednesday both sides knew the talks would yield little change. The groups came into the talks with vastly differing sets of demands. The west wants Putin to withdraw the troops and supplies amassed at Ukraine’s border. Russia wants to ensure its own security by denying Ukraine NATO membership and forcing a withdraw of NATO troops from countries bordering Russia. While the discussions appear to show the huge divide, Russia and NATO may share a common goal for now.

For years Russia has been complaining about the slow encroachment of NATO on its borders. While western nations may label Russia’s demands as “non-starters”— they should come as no surprise. NATO members understand that the more countries that they have in their alliance, especially ones who are neighbors with Russia, the larger their buffer will be with Putin’s regime. The Kremlin also recognizes this and does not want to see a country with major historical and cultural ties to Russia grow closer with the West. An organization like NATO which came about as means to counter the Soviet Union during the Cold War poses an obvious threat to Russia. NATO’s creep towards Russia’s borders will continue to set off alarm bells in the Kremlin.

Since the conflict in Eastern Ukraine began in 2014, Putin has been able to stall the establishment of any formal ties between Ukraine and western organizations like the EU or NATO. The war has prevented NATO from extending a membership invite to Ukraine, and western leaders do not seem to be in any rush to have them join. A country that is fighting an ongoing war would severely complicate a military alliance such as NATO, which would likely draw the US and European allies deeper into the conflict. While the west has strongly condemned Russian aggression, they have been hesitant to take further action. President Biden made it clear during his withdrawal from Afghanistan last year that he had no appetite for more war.

While Putin’s troop buildup presents the risk of Russia capturing more territory from Ukraine, Putin has a far more strategic goal in mind: prevent Ukraine from joining NATO. While things are so unstable in Ukraine, the West is likely fine with this blockade. So where does that mean negotiations will go? Russian troops will likely stay along the border and talks will continue, but concrete agreements remain an unlikely outcome.

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