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Russia have invaded Ukraine to prevent their admission into NATO. Prior to the invasion, Russia made it clear that they wanted assurances that this would not happen.

Why didn't NATO and Ukraine just agree to these demands to avoid invasion? Note I am NOT saying that NATO and Ukraine should've actually decided to never let Ukraine into NATO. I am saying why didn't they just pretend they wouldn't, to appease Russia and avoid invasion?

Instead, what we got was Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary general, completely shutting down these requests by Russia, saying things such as ,

It's only Ukraine and 30 NATO allies that decide when Ukraine is ready to join NATO. Russia has no veto, Russia has no say, and Russia has no right to establish a sphere of influence to try to control their neighbors. Source.

I just don't understand how this was considered a smart move politically, it's just seems like an astonishingly naive approach. Why provoke Russia in such a way? Why disregard their threats of this being a "red line" issue? Why not be savvy and simply pretend that NATO has no intentions of admitting Ukraine, but, of course, behind the scenes, you can still do whatever you want.... and then all you need to do is wait for the opportune moment to make it public, and at that point, there's nothing Russia can do, since the planing of an invasion would take time, and in that time, NATO could easily establish a no-fly zone, as well as sending NATO forces into Ukraine.

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    Where have you been during the years of wikileaks? There is no such thing as keeping secrets of that nature any longer. Not for long.
    – CGCampbell
    Mar 2, 2022 at 15:46
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    "Why not be savvy and simply pretend that NATO has no intentions of admitting Ukraine, but, of course, behind the scenes, you can still do whatever you want.... and then all you need to do is wait for the opportune moment to make it public, and at that point, there's nothing Russia can do" That is what they have been doing since 1991. Mar 2, 2022 at 18:43
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    In what manner would pretending be any better? There are either missing citations or context to provide this question with a better foundation. There is also question of provocation. If not doing what Russia wants is provoking Russia, then attempting to lie to or deceive Russia on such mass scale certainly wouldn't result in upset feelings. Additionally, this question's premise assumes that Russia would not have invaded if given what it asked for in full without pretending, something that is itself uncertain.
    – David S
    Mar 2, 2022 at 22:02

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It's not obvious NATO really cared that much about Ukraine joining at this point. The previous Russian attack was met with a weak response and the country was still partly occupied and involved in an active conflict, which would make joining NATO very difficult. While threatening sanctions and making declarations like the one you quote, NATO countries also made it abundantly clear they would not consider any direct military intervention.

The problem is that even if you don't actually want Ukraine as part of the alliance, it's still very hard to publicly cave in to such a demand from a rival country. It would validate Russia's ingerence in Ukraine and NATO affairs. On top of that, Russia's original demands also pertained to the three Baltic countries, which are NATO and EU members. That crosses another set of red lines.

By demanding all this publicly, Russia made any kind of agreement very difficult. That's even if the US was already content to keep Ukraine out of NATO and didn't need to pretend at all.

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If they pretend to agree and say that the Ukraine will never join NATO it can have the opposite effect. Now that they have come out and publicly said that Russia might feel more confident about an invasion as they feel there is little reason that NATO would intervene after the invasion. This is of course assuming it would be possible to keep this a secret for very long.

Even if that isn't the case it would just push the issue down the road for when the possibility of them joining comes up again or when they actually join. In the case of them actually joining it would cause more issues as then the word of the countries is not as good from what they said in the past.

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In a way, they did.

In 2014, Russia and Ukraine signed the Minsk Agreement. In included multiple provisions that both sides agreed to. However, neither side followed through with the protocol.

In 2015, the Minsk II Agreement was signed. It was more elaborate and specific about every point. The full text is in the link above.

Abridged to the key points:

  • **Immediate and full ceasefire
  • Pull-out of all heavy weapons by both sides**
  • A resolution to be approved by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, indicating the territory which falls under the special regime in accordance with the law "On temporary Order of Local Self-Governance in Particular Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts," based in the line set up by the Minsk Memorandum as of 19 September 2014.
  • Pardon and amnesty in relation to events that took place in particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine.
  • Provide release and exchange of all hostages and illegally held persons
  • Restore control of the state border to the Ukrainian government in the whole conflict zone
  • Pullout of all foreign armed formations, military equipment, and also mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine under OSCE supervision. Disarmament of all illegal groups.
  • Constitutional reform in Ukraine, with a new constitution to come into effect by the end of 2015, the key element of which is decentralisation (taking into account peculiarities of particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, agreed with representatives of these districts), and also approval of permanent legislation on the special status of particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in accordance with the measures spelt out in the attached footnote,[note 1] by the end of 2015..

The special status, as spelled out in note 1, would include the right for Donetsk and Luhansk to set their own official language policies.

  • The right to self-determination with regard to language;
  • Participation of local governments in the appointment of heads of prosecutors’ offices and courts in individual areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions;
  • The possibility for the central executive authorities to conclude agreements with the relevant local authorities on economic, social and cultural development of individual areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions;
  • The state shall support socio-economic development of individual areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions;
  • Assistance from the central government to cross-border cooperation between the individual areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and regions of the Russian Federation;
  • The creation of people's militia units [police] upon the decision of local councils in order to maintain public order in individual areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions;
  • The powers of local council deputies and other officials elected in snap elections, appointed by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine according to this law, cannot be terminated.

Between 2016 and 2021, the agreement was followed through only partially, with legislation that differed from Russia's demands, and with Russia not fulfilling its part in full either, specifically about the disarmament of all illegal groups.

In 2018, the separatist forces were pushed back from their borders, while the Minsk II still hadn't been implemented in full (per same link, from Ukrainian media).

This ultimately led to the current events.

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