Given the annexation of Crimea in 2014: one could argue that Ukrainian officials considered joining NATO between 2015 and 2021. What if any obstacles did Ukraine face to joining NATO during 2015-2021?

A Google search of NATO membership requirements returned:

3 Answers 3


Hungary effectively opposed their membership, for instance, since 2018. According to the MFA of Hungary

Since 2018, Hungary has been blocking ministerial-level political meetings between NATO and Ukraine as a sign of protest over Ukraine violating the human rights of its ethnic minorities.

And more simple terms Reuters paraphrased sometime in 2019 that

Hungary’s foreign minister on Wednesday said Budapest would block Ukraine’s membership in NATO until Kiev restored the rights that ethnic Hungarians had before a language law curbed minorities’ access to education in their mother tongues.

I'm less sure what might have happened between 2015-2018. But the conflict in Eastern Ukraine was already ongoing even then. And I'm daring to quote from TASS on this, which probably is close enough to the source, a 2021 interview with the German ambassador to Ukraine:

The conflict in Donbass and the situation around Crimea, which Kiev considers Ukrainian, are obstructions for Kiev’s accession to NATO, German Ambassador to Ukraine Anka Feldhausen said in an interview for Ukrainian television on Friday.

"The fact remains - there is a military conflict in Ukraine. It is always difficult for NATO to accept new countries with such ongoing conflicts," she said.

When asked whether the conflict in east Ukraine and the situation around Crimea are obstructions for Ukraine’s membership in the Alliance, the envoy said "yes."

It is fairly correct to say that according to the principles laid out some decades ago, NATO will not easily consider membership of countries with active military conflicts.

States which have ethnic disputes or external territorial disputes, including irredentist claims, or internal jurisdictional disputes must settle those disputes by peaceful means in accordance with OSCE principles. Resolution of such disputes would be a factor in determining whether to invite a state to join the Alliance.

And the heavyweights of NATO were not exactly keen either...

“There are steps that Ukraine needs to take,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said in September after President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine met with Mr. Biden in the Oval Office. “They’re very familiar with these: efforts to advance rule of law reforms, modernize its defense sector and expand economic growth.” [...]

“The principal objection would be: Does such a move actually contribute to the stability in Europe, or would it contribute to destabilization?” said Douglas E. Lute, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO. “I think it’s indisputable there wouldn’t be consensus among the 30 members, even though all allies agree that Ukraine has the right to aspire to become a NATO member.”

  • I think the "not easily" part in your penultimate paragraph is the key here.
    – o.m.
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 6:58
  • @o.m.: yeah, it's not an absolute showstopper, as some sometimes portray that issue. On the other hand, accession does require unanimity, so a country (like Hungary) opposing is a bigger practical issue, unless they can be persuaded (or "bought off" depending how much realpolitik you want to infuse here) by either the applicant country or their larger friends... Commented Feb 26, 2022 at 3:04

The sources you link set out membership criteria. Ukraine still had problems regarding the economy, rule of law, etc.

NATO could have made the decision to admit Ukraine even if it does not meet the criteria, but then NATO could also have decided to defend a non-member state, and it didn't do that. NATO said that it would defend NATO members only. They are not prepared to start WWIII over Ukraine.

  • I'm not sure why this got downvoted. No citations, but it's rather correct factually if one bothers to find what the Western diplomats have been saying about this issue. Commented Feb 26, 2022 at 3:50

Accession to NATO is not possible for countries with unresolved territorial conflicts. For example, this document, referring to post-URSS NATO enlargement states:

States which have ethnic disputes or external territorial disputes, including irredentist claims, or internal jurisdictional disputes must settle those disputes by peaceful means in accordance with OSCE principles. Resolution of such disputes would be a factor in determining whether to invite a state to join the Alliance.

Given that the annexation of Crimea and the self proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, Ukraine was in the state if a territorial conflict with Russia and the above mentioned republics. It's accession to NATO would then make the other 30 members into parties of this conflict as well. A conflict between nuclear powers is not very desirable.

@o.m. has brought to my attentuion one seeming exception to this rule: the inclusion of West Germany in 1955. One could argue that the situation of the West Germany was significantly different from that in Ukraine: it was not a state with internationally recognized borders that whad been violated, but rather a one newly created from the three occupation zones. Still, West Germany laid a claim to represent all of the Germany, which remained unfullfilled till 1990s.

It is hard to say whether NATO could do a similar exception for Ukraine - if it tried, it would be likely swiftly pre-empted by Russia... which might be exactly what has just happened.

  • 1
    It would be possible if NATO wanted. Germany joined with an obvious territorial issue.
    – o.m.
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 6:12
  • 1
    @o.m. This is factually incorrect: East and West Germany were created as two independent states with no territorial claims to each other. Moreover, East Germany was recognized by NATO members.
    – Morisco
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 6:31
  • 4
    Are you aware of the Hallstein Doctrine?
    – o.m.
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 6:35
  • 5
    My point is that NATO can admit anybody NATO wants to admit. There is no (international) law to stop them. So if NATO wants to admit a nation that wants to join, they will order their diplomats to write things up. It is a political question, not a legal question.
    – o.m.
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 6:44
  • 2
    There are plenty of NATO members with territorial disputes, even with other NATO members, though as far as I know they are all relatively trivial. Still, they are unsettled. The examples that come to mind are France with Italy and Slovenia with Croatia, all now NATO members. But Croatia also has a border dispute with non-member Serbia, and a quick look through the relevant Wikipedia page (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_territorial_disputes) turns up more than a few more between members and non-members.
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 9:52

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