The United States-Russia relationship is already in bad shape, and U.S. diplomats are hurting it further by sending conflicting messages about Ukraine’s future relationship with NATO.
First, NATO and Kiev signed a letter of intent in February for cooperation between their special operations forces. Two months later American ambassador and current NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow said it was time to bring the Ukrainian military “in line with NATO standards.” Barely one week later, though, the U.S. Ambassador to NATO ruled out NATO expansion for the “next several years.”
These muddled messages only cause confusion, provoking Russia while potentially false hope for Ukraine. For that reason, it’s time for Washington to make clear that Ukrainian accession to NATO is not on the table. Here’s why.
First, NATO possesses almost no ability to defend Ukraine. Russia has 270,000 troops and 700 jet fighters positioned on Ukraine’s southern and western borders. And as Russia demonstrated in 2015 when it sent 150,000 troops to surround Ukraine, Moscow can quickly mobilize its military in the event of a conflict.
Crimea, meanwhile, became a Russian fortress after its annexation. Moscow has fortified the peninsula with 25,000 troops, numerous ships and subs, as well as its lethal S400 air-to-ground missiles — a weapon which could shoot down multiple NATO jets up to 250 miles away. Moreover, as Russia’s recent Syrian campaign demonstrated, its military now possesses the same type of advanced precision targeting cruise missiles used by the United States, providing yet another weapon Moscow could deploy against NATO if a war around Ukraine and the Black Sea broke out. Finally — and perhaps most troublingly — Russia even claims the right to deploy nuclear weapons to Crimea.