Last Updated on May 22, 2022
While participating in a public policy forum at the semi-annual Munk Debates in Toronto, a former U.S. Ambassador to Russia laughed when admitting that Ukraine was never going to be admitted to NATO. In March, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky revealed that he was privately told as much during an interview with CNN. Western leaders have repeatedly told the public that the nation can join the alliance, however.
“In 2021 [the U.S.] kept reiterating that Ukraine was gonna join [NATO], we kept saying that over and over again… So our diplomats are lying?” former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, was asked by Harvard international affairs professor Stephen Walt. “Yes, yes! That’s the real world guys!” McFaul exclaimed with a laugh. “Come on, come on! That’s the real world!”
“What a second, our diplomats are lying all the time yet the Russians should trust them when they offer assurances?” Walt shot back. The Harvard professor went on to ask why NATO countries won’t publicly retract the offer if Ukraine’s membership is not possible.
Our diplomats admit that Ukraine will never be a member of NATO, but they won’t make official statements because of … I don’t really know why. War is profitable and they want this war?
— Wall Street Silver (@WallStreetSilv) May 21, 2022
Michael McFaul — who served as U.S. Ambassador to Russia from 2012-14 — appears to have confirmed previous reports that Ukrainian NATO membership was never actually on the table.
“The leaders of world countries, most leaders of NATO and European Union were well aware of my position. I told them that we were running out of time,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN in March. “You have to admit Ukraine into NATO right now. We do not have much time, you have to accept Ukraine as a member of the EU.’ We deserve these alliances, were are just reinforcing you. We are strengthening you and you will see it,” Zelensky told world leaders in the months leading up to the conflict.
Zelensky was directly told that Ukraine would never be able to join NATO. The Ukrainian leader said various NATO countries had security concerns, while others lacked public support for the move, and that Ukraine would not be able to join the alliance. “They do not have a consolidated position and I requested that personally, to say directly that ‘we are going to accept you into NATO in a year, or two or five.’ Just say it directly and clearly, or just say no” Zelensky told CNN.
“And the response was very clear; ‘you’re not going to be a NATO or EU member, but publicly, the doors will remain open,’” Ukraine’s president was reportedly told by NATO leaders.
President Biden claimed that Ukraine joining NATO was “in Kyiv’s hands” as recently as December of last year.