The question with Ukraine is basically down to Ukraine not trusting Russia one bit and trying to join NATO to get under its protective umbrella.
It's like the little kid at school buddying up to you to help out against the school bully. Sure, it might feel good to be protective and a good guy and all that. But you may also get a bloody nose from fighting the bully and the lil guy won't be a big help in a fight. If only it wasn't your problem...
How did this come to be? Well, partially from Bush in 2008 who thought it would be a good idea to promise accession. Why did they do it? Probably not directly to threaten Russia, but the Bush team was always pretty hubristic in seeing everything the American way.
Diplomats and analysts say that the transatlantic split is such that today's session will produce a formula that effectively replicates the conflicting signals sent in Bucharest. They add that the Bucharest decision was a mistake that contributed to the Caucasus crisis in August.
The issue of Nato membership for the two countries is intimately linked with western policy towards Russia, currently incoherent and contradictory.
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France earlier this month backed Russian calls for a major summit next year to try to redefine Europe's "security architecture." An international foreign ministers' meeting in Helsinki later this week could see Germany, France, Russia, and Finland supporting the summit, which is also opposed by the US and Britain.
Plus ca change...
Since then, no one's really had the guts to walk it back - including the US which probably isn't that happy with the Bush promise - and doing so now would look like rewarding Putin for his aggression.
Given all the contortions NATO is going through in its statements about Ukraine:
The bulk of NATO doesn't want Ukraine aboard right now and would be happy to see the whole embarrassment shelved (yes, places like Poland or the Baltics would love to stick it to Russia, but they are smaller members).
Here are some pros and cons of accession now, articulated by some heavy hitters in international relations (not just this week's assigned Ukraine "expert" by papers needing to cover the news). Note from it that, since accession needs unanimity from existing members, Ukraine has effectively no chance under current circumstances.
The lack of enthusiasm of NATO towards Ukraine accession or the, supposed, lack of aggressive intent by NATO does not mean that Russia doesn't have security concerns about NATO's proximity. Look at the US and its serial hissy fits with regards to Cuba or its formulation of the Monroe Doctrine. Russia, like other states, is in its right to be cautious about inimical influences near its borders. Unlike most states, it is extremely capable to push back against real or perceived threats. Expecting it to "put up with it" is wishful thinking.
But if it was an easier neighbor to live with, as Russia, and as its predecessor state, USSR, then neighboring countries would be more willing to stick to neutrality.
Ukraine crisis is not the same thing as the Polish ABM base, which is one domain where Russia has more reasonable reasons for concerns (although it has hard to see what its 10 ABMs would do to deter Russian forces, rather than Iran's).
Russia did this to itself, starting with the 2008 invasion of Georgia and the 2014 annexation of Crimea. That annexation of Crimea? Came months after Ukraine's ousting of their corrupt leader, Yanukovich, a protege of Putin's who went straight to Moscow. Just a coincidence.
Few neighboring countries that are not totalitarian themselves trust Putin's Russia. That's why those countries want to join NATO.
It is telling that amidst this brouhaha Finland, which has decades of careful real neutrality under its belt, is vaguely considering joining NATO. That's just odd. Sweden was mentioned by JJJ, but Finland seems much more fundamentally neutral than them. Again, Finland's hitherto distant collaboration with NATO warmed up after 2014 - see a pattern?
Is it NATO's wider interest to include members that have immediate borders with Russia? No, not really, unless they plan to invade Russia which our electorates would never agree to. By having direct borders with Russia NATO risks border incidents that could easily escalate. It really isn't worth the hassle and the prospective members bring negligible force projection capabilities, outside of their own territory at least.
It would be great to have a neutral Ukraine, with its security guaranteed by NATO and Russia and call it a day.
Why, it could even look like this agreement, which Russia signed in 1994 to get Ukraine's share of Soviet nukes:
The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations;
The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to refrain from economic coercion designed to subordinate to their own interest the exercise by Ukraine of the rights inherent in its sovereignty and thus to secure advantages of any kind;
Now, can Ukraine believe it would solve its problem, this time? This is the problem with breaking agreements, no one believes you later.
For the record, I think it is wrong to accept Ukraine in NATO, now or later. It would be an aggressive move by NATO. However that leaves the question what exactly would provide assurances to Ukraine that they can continue to be an independent state at this point, free of military, economic or political intimidation by either the West or Russia. And free to manage their political and economic alliances as they choose.