The White House said Thursday that it’s keeping the door “open” to Ukraine joining NATO, in the latest escalation of tensions with Russia.
President Biden plans to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin next month during his first trip abroad since taking office — after Russia allegedly massed troops near Ukraine.
NATO members are committed to collective defense, meaning the US would be obligated by treaty to fight Russia on Ukraine’s behalf.
“The Biden administration is committed to ensuring that NATO’s door remains open to aspirants when they are ready and able to meet the commitments and obligations of membership and contribute to security in the Euro-Atlantic area,” White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One.
“The United States supports Ukraine’s effort to advance rule of law reforms and economic growth and its border — and its border fight against Russian aggression.”
A journalist pressed Jean-Pierre for clarification. “The door remaining open is not a ‘no,’” the reporter said.
Jean-Pierre replied, “We support it.”
The journalist asked, “You support Ukraine joining NATO?”
“Yeah, yeah. Like I said, the Biden administration is committed to ensuring that NATO’s door remains open to aspirants when they are ready and able to meet the commitments. So they have to meet the commitments and the obligations of membership and contribute to security in the Euro-Atlantic area,” she said.
Russia in 2014 annexed Crimea, which is internationally recognized as part of Ukraine. Russia also is accused of backing a pair of breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine.
In 2004, three countries that formerly belonged to the Soviet Union — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — joined NATO, poking the Kremlin in the eye. Although the alliance technically commits members to collective defense, the obligation isn’t strictly applied.
Ukraine is one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in Europe and its politics have vacillated between pro-Russian and pro-Western factions since the Cold War. In 2014, pro-Western protesters chased out pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych. His ouster sparked counter-protests across Ukraine’s largely Russian-speaking south and east. Russia annexed Crimea after a disputed referendum.
In 2018, Putin warned there would be “consequences” if NATO were to integrate Ukraine, calling the idea “aggressive” and “irresponsible” and a direct threat to Russian national security.
“We will respond appropriately to such aggressive steps, which pose a direct threat to Russia,” Putin said at the time, according to The Independent.
“Our colleagues, who are trying to aggravate the situation, seeking to include, among others, Ukraine and Georgia in the orbit of the alliance, should think about the possible consequences of such an irresponsible policy.”
Biden appeared to blink last month on a decision to send warships to the Black Sea over Russian aggression in Ukraine, following Russia warning the US to stay away from the area “for their own good.” The Pentagon ordered two US destroyers to make a U-turn.