Why didn’t Ukraine become a NATO member back in the 1990s?

In a comment on MIT weighs in regarding the war in Ukraine, Paul wrote the following:


sure looks like NATO poking the Russian bear to me.

What’s inside the referenced January 10, 2022 NATO document?

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General: On membership. We have reiterated the decision we made at the Bucharest Summit in 2008 and we stand by that decision. We help Ukraine to move towards a NATO membership by implementing reforms, by meeting NATO standards. … Meaning that it is for Ukraine and the 30 NATO Allies to decide when Ukraine is ready for membership.

Let’s ignore for the moment the question of whether it was wise, as Russian forces gathered on the borders of Ukraine, to talk about the inevitability of Ukraine’s future membership in NATO, exactly what the Russians were objecting to. The question for today’s post regards “NATO standards”.

Let’s step back and look at Jens Stoltenberg? Wikipedia says Mx. Stoltenberg is “a Norwegian politician”. He/she/ze/they is not someone with military experience, in other words, and yet he/she/ze/they leads what is supposedly a military enterprise. Below is a 2018 meeting where we can see how mild-mannered he/she/ze/they is compared to Donald Trump, who points out that Germany’s continued fossil fuel purchases from Russia work against the organization’s mission.

Hindsight is 20/20, but if the goal was to have Ukraine as part of NATO, why wasn’t that done in 1994, when the Budapest Memorandum was signed? Putin’s leadership of Russia did not begin until 1999.

NATO in January 2022 said that Ukraine could join NATO “by implementing reforms” and “by meeting NATO standards,” but what was deficient about Ukraine from NATO’s perspective? It can’t be about fighting spirit, can it? There are plenty of countries in NATO that are not renowned for military valor. What “reforms” did Ukraine need? They had already stopped paying Hunter Biden (and, indirectly, “the big guy”, though $2.5 million of this cash was harvested by a retired-stripper-turned-family-court-entrepreneur; see BBC for a summary), right?

If countries that have historically crumbled at the first hint of a foreign invasion can be part of NATO, what was the obstacle to Ukraine’s membership years or decades ago?

10 thoughts on “Why didn’t Ukraine become a NATO member back in the 1990s?

  1. Ukraine displays too much fighting spirit?
    I believe it was connections to Russian military and military-industrial complex. Much of Ukrainian navy, including its largest warship, defected to Russia during 2014 Crimea takeover.
    With the succession of Luhansk and Donetsk from Ukraine and Putin occupation of Crimea things changed – pro-Russian elements are now insignificant minority in Ukraine.
    The other reason was that some Ukrainian politicians, especially in Eastern Ukraine, started as black market lords in former USSR and took their resist to soviets know – now into new Europe – oriented Ukraine. It also happened to be mostly them who successfully resisted Russian asymmetric hybrid warfare in Eastern Ukraine in 2014. But of course US with “not corrupt” Clintons and Bidens are too sensible to work with such folks and our diplomats too requested their demise. Go figure.

    • “Hindsight is 20/20, but if the goal was to have Ukraine as part of NATO, why wasn’t that done in 1994, when the Budapest Memorandum was signed? Putin’s leadership of Russia did not begin until 1999.


      Appears the NATO race was on after the fall of the Berlin Wall. From what I read prior, Boris Yeltsin was more interested in strong drink than his own country.

      “Debate within the American government as to whether enlargement of NATO was feasible or desirable began during the George H.W. Bush administration.[18] By mid-1992, a consensus emerged within the administration that NATO enlargement was a wise realpolitik measure to strengthen American hegemony.[18][19]

    • It’s never been about fighting spirit or anything like that. Parenthetically, when I lived in the Soviet Union my personal /anecdotal experience had been that Ukrainians were much softer than their more ruthless Russian counterparts. I am really surprised that they managed to survive Russian attacks for so long.

      I think LSI is right that in 1994, despite having a strong bargaining hand (with nukes), the NATO was not prepared to trust Ukraine due to the fact that its army at the time was staffed with pro Russian leadership (as opposed to the Baltics).

      Then, the membership application was slowly chugging along until 2010 when Ukraine elected a pro Russian president Yanukovich who naturally stopped the process. After 2014 events, a chance of Ukraine of ever becoming a NATO member became a very remote prospect due to the ongoing territorial disputes. In fact, I think there was an extremely low probability of such membership ever materializing despite whatever words were said about that on all sides. All of that is sort of irrelevant now.

  2. “NATO in January 2022 said that Ukraine could join NATO “by implementing reforms” and “by meeting NATO standards,” but what was deficient about Ukraine from NATO’s perspective?


    “Membership Action Plan

    Willingness to settle international, ethnic or external territorial disputes by peaceful means, commitment to the rule of law and human rights, and democratic control of armed forces
    Ability to contribute to the organization’s defence and missions
    Devotion of sufficient resources to armed forces to be able to meet the commitments of membership
    Security of sensitive information, and safeguards ensuring it
    Compatibility of domestic legislation with NATO cooperation

    I think the requirements can be distilled down to being able and willing to buy lots of cool stuff and a promise not to sell any of that on ebay, or to a 22 year old blonde in a miniskirt who is named Olga and speaks Russian.

  3. They’ve had a history of revolutions, war, & corruption, right until 2014. It would have dragged a lot of countries in.

    Doubt it would make any difference now. It would be the same deal with everyone else sending in weapons while Bide does nothing but stay out of sight until the system takes care of it on its own. He hasn’t appeared in public in 4 days. Maybe he’ll spend 1 sentence on it the next time he shows up, if ever.

    • Ukraine continues to fight inflicting heavy casualties on Russian military which started resorting to war crimes such as bombing civilians, killing civilians with small weapons, using civilian human shields to shield advancing forces https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/national-international/rep-spartz-born-in-ukraine-calls-on-biden-to-act-fast-to-stop-genocide and using thermobaric bombs in Kharkiv . That does not surprise me.
      What surprises me is Russia not being able to achieve air supremacy over Ukraine despite having second best ranked airforce in the world.
      So any military aid to Ukraine matters now.

    • Well, the EU countries decided against shipping old MIG-29s to Ukraine most likely for fear of provoking the Kremlin madman into pushing the red button.

      The only hope for Ukraine would be a military coup in Russia initiated by the dissatisfied political elite, but I think the chance of that happening is as low as Ukraine prevailing militarily in the conflict. Especially, taking into account that at least 50% of the Russian population supports this insanity. For those who understand Russian:

  4. There were promises against NATO expansion in connection with the German reunification:


    U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s famous “not one inch eastward” assurance about NATO expansion in his meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990, was part of a cascade of assurances about Soviet security given by Western leaders to Gorbachev and other Soviet officials throughout the process of German unification in 1990 and on into 1991, according to declassified U.S., Soviet, German, British and French documents posted today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University.

    The promises were broken in 1999 with full NATO membership of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic on the grounds that they had been made to the Soviet Union and not Russia.

    Putin himself tried to join NATO around 2000 (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/04/ex-nato-head-says-putin-wanted-to-join-alliance-early-on-in-his-rule) but was met with skepticism.

    For Ukraine, 1994 seems way too early. People were happy that there was one more country that gave up nuclear weapons, joining NATO (before Poland etc.) would have been unthinkable.

    The following talk presents Russia’s perspective. I imagine many people don’t want to hear it right now, but for clueless Westerners like myself it provides many additional data points (I think the speaker is mildly pro-Putin, so use your own judgement):

    • Gorbachev himself said recently that where no hard promises about nato. From what I know about Pozner he is a skillful master of slightly twisting the truth. Wherever someone said when he was drunk or under euphoria is not a substitute for the written agreement

  5. “… if the goal was to have Ukraine as part of NATO, why wasn’t that done in 1994, when the Budapest Memorandum was signed?…”

    That agreement guaranteed (“assured”) Ukraine’s national integrity, the guarantors being USA, UK, oh and Russia, so why would Ukraine have needed to be in NATO? Who was the third guarantor again? When Putin repudiated the agreement in 2014, the other guarantors should have shipped in the nukes that Ukraine gave up in return for it, or they should have acted against Russia’s contravention themselves.

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