As tensions continue to escalate between Ukraine and Russia, Ukraine’s membership status with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is under increased scrutiny.
NATO is an alliance of 30 North American and European countries that was created in 1949 after World War II. It was the first peacetime military alliance outside of the Western Hemisphere the U.S. entered into, according to the U.S. Office of the Historian.
Countries agree to 14 articles of the Washington Treaty, which created NATO, in order to join. Article 5 is most frequently referenced and says “an attack against an ally is an attack against all.” President Joe Biden addressed this in a Feb. 15 update about border tensions, as U.S. and European allies were moving troops and resources near Ukraine to prepare for a potential Russian invasion.
“And make no mistake: The United States will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of American power,” Biden said. “An attack against one NATO country is an attack against all of us. And the United States’ commitment to Article 5 is sacrosanct.”
In Feb. 24 remarks about Russia's attack on Ukraine, Biden reiterated his comments from Feb. 15 and said U.S. forces won't fight in Ukraine.
“Let me say it again: Our forces are not and will not be engaged in a conflict with Russia in Ukraine," Biden said. "Our forces are not going to Europe to fight in Ukraine, but to defend our NATO allies and reassure those allies in the east.”
Biden and NATO counterparts announced on Friday, Feb. 25 that they have decided to send parts of the NATO Response Force to the alliance's eastern flank. This marks the first time the response force has been used in the defense of NATO allies.
Google search trends show people are searching for NATO member countries in 2022 and asking whether Ukraine is a member of the alliance.
Is Ukraine a NATO member country?
No, Ukraine is not a NATO member country, but it did submit an application to join in 2008 that is still pending.
WHAT WE FOUND
Though Ukraine is not one of the 30 member countries, it is considered a partner country and has made “aspirations to NATO membership,” according to the alliance.
Ukraine has a decades-long history with NATO. The alliance says cooperation began with the country in the 1990s when Ukraine joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council and the Partnership for Peace program, both of which facilitate dialogue between partner countries and NATO. At the Bucharest Summit in April 2008, NATO said it supported Ukraine’s application for membership but would begin a “period of intensive engagement” to address outstanding questions. BBC News reported at the time that Russia strongly objected to Ukraine joining NATO and member countries were split on the decision of whether to grant membership. Existing members of NATO must unanimously vote in a new country.
Though Ukraine’s application to join is still pending, NATO says allies “welcome Ukraine’s aspirations to join” and stand by the decision made at the 2008 summit that “Ukraine will become a member of the alliance.”
According to the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C., Ukraine approved a constitutional amendment in February 2019 that identified European Union and NATO membership as “strategic goals” for the country. Then, in 2020, current Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy approved Ukraine’s New National Security Strategy, which provides for the development of a distinctive partnership with NATO aimed at membership.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said during a news conference on Feb. 15 that he and Federal Chancellor of Germany Olaf Scholz discussed Russia's continued objection to Ukraine, or any other Eastern European country, joining NATO. Putin demanded NATO return to its 1997 configuration when the Russia-NATO Founding Act was signed, which predates an Eastern European expansion of NATO that began in 1999 and saw 14 countries admitted into the alliance, including Hungary, Poland and others.
Following recent reports that Ukraine’s ambassador to Britain said Ukraine may consider dropping plans to join NATO if it would avert war, Ukraine's Embassy to the United Kingdom clarified in a tweet that “there is no change for NATO membership plans” and Ukraine is “not a member now.”
Though Ukraine is not a member of NATO, five of the 30 member countries – Estonia, Norway, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland – share a border with Russia. In a Feb. 22 update, Biden announced he would move additional troops to three of those countries.
"Today in response to Russian admission that it will not withdraw its forces from Belarus, I have authorized additional movements of U.S. forces and equipment already stationed in Europe to strengthen our Baltic allies, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania," Biden said.