In CNN's April 15, 2022 He was once Putin's Prime Minister. Now he supports Ukraine after 05:30 former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov says (my transcription, no closed captions available):

I'll bring you back twenty years ago when I was prime minister and (Putin) was in (his) first term as president. At that time we had excellent relations with the United States (unclear) in general. At that time me -- as the head of the cabinet -- I announced (that) I was dreaming to get Russia as a full-fledged member of NATO.

Mr. Putin at that time, in not such a direct way also said that he didn't exclude such a position. And we established together with NATO a special council - a Russia-NATO Council, and relations were very good.

Right now it's a completely different situation (and) a completely different Putin.

Wikipedia's Russia-NATO relations: NATO-Russia Council doesn't specifically mention any discussion of Russia joining NATO. So I'd like to ask:

Question: Did Russia once want to join NATO? Does former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov refer to a serious interest in the past?

Note: I'm asking about Russia's past intention1, not Kasyanov's.

Here's a second reference to this possibility. In CNN's May 16 2022 Tony Blair explains what he thinks changed Putin (my transcription):

The trajectory has been away from the reforming, western-oriented leader who could have allowed Russia to become part of the west - people used to even talk in the old days (I'm talking times when I was there) people were even talking about 'could Russia become a member of the European Union? Was there a way that Russia could be accommodated literally within the structures of NATO?'

And it's very important that people remember this because this myth that Putin perpetrates that we were somehow trying to push him and humiliate Russia... Russia's problem is not the result of our humiliation of Russia, it's the result of bad government in Russia.

Of course "people were even talking about" is not evidence of Russia's serious interest, but it at least supports the question's premise that it is valid to ask the question if it did.

1Answers should reference statements by and evidence of actions associated with Russia itself, not Kasyanov "dream". See this answer in meta.


2 Answers 2


Others, albeit Westerners remember such talk from Russia, and more specifically from Putin some 20+ years ago too:

Vladimir Putin wanted Russia to join Nato but did not want his country to have to go through the usual application process and stand in line “with a lot of countries that don’t matter”, according to a former secretary general of the transatlantic alliance.

George Robertson, a former Labour defence secretary who led Nato between 1999 and 2003, said Putin made it clear at their first meeting that he wanted Russia to be part of western Europe. “They wanted to be part of that secure, stable prosperous west that Russia was out of at the time,” he said.

The Labour peer recalled an early meeting with Putin, who became Russian president in 2000. “Putin said: ‘When are you going to invite us to join Nato?’ And [Robertson] said: ‘Well, we don’t invite people to join Nato, they apply to join Nato.’ And he said: ‘Well, we’re not standing in line with a lot of countries that don’t matter.’”

The account chimes with what Putin told the late David Frost in a BBC interview shortly before he was first inaugurated as Russian president more than 21 years ago. Putin told Frost he would not rule out joining Nato “if and when Russia’s views are taken into account as those of an equal partner”.

He told Frost it was hard for him to visualise Nato as an enemy. “Russia is part of the European culture. And I cannot imagine my own country in isolation from Europe and what we often call the civilised world.”

("Ex-Nato head says Putin wanted to join alliance early on in his rule", 4 November 2021, Jennifer Rankin, The Guardian)

About two decades later, Putin recounted discussing the matter with Bill Clinton. RFERL relates in a 2017 article:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed that he once raised the possibility of Russia joining NATO with then-President Bill Clinton, and that Clinton said he had "no objection."

Putin delivered this account in a series of interviews with U.S. film director Oliver Stone set to air later this month on the U.S. television network Showtime.

Speaking with Stone in what appears to be Putin's presidential plane, the Russian leader recalls one of his final meetings with Clinton, who left office in January 2001.

"During the meeting I said, 'We would consider an option that Russia might join NATO,'" Putin says. "Clinton answered, 'I have no objection.' But the entire U.S. delegation got very nervous."

In a March 2000 interview with the British television journalist David Frost, Putin was asked whether "it is possible Russia could join NATO."

Putin, who at the time was serving as acting president and weeks later was elected to his first term, responded, "I don’t see why not."

("Putin Says He Discussed Russia's Possible NATO Membership With Bill Clinton", 3 June 2017, RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, with reporting by AFP)

It might get into the realm of opinion-based how serious this was (from all participants in those discussions). For what's worth it, a google search even finds a 2000 report on NATO's site titled: "Should Russia join NATO?"

  • 13
    I remember those times, and that many people in Europe were extremely nervous because of the special status Russia demanded which would basically give them operational control over much of Europe's militaries.
    – jwenting
    May 16, 2022 at 9:20
  • 3
    During the TV speech by Putin immediately before the current Ukraine conflict, Putin mentioned again his discussion with Bill Clinton about this possibility. May 16, 2022 at 13:46

If we treat the question Did Russia once want to join NATO? broadly, to include the Soviet era, then the USSR indeed show interest in joining NATO very early, was rejected and subsequently founded Warsaw Pact as a counter-weight to NATO:

The USSR, fearing the restoration of German militarism in West Germany, had suggested in 1954 that it join NATO, but this was rejected by the US and UK.

(the rest of the section of the linked Wikipedia article deals with various discussions between the USSR and NATO and within NATO that ultimately led to the rejection of the Soviet proposal.)

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