In 1991, Russia signalled it wanted to join NATO. Boris Yeltsin, the first president of the new Russian state, called NATO membership a “long-term political aim” of his country. Yeltsin was echoing calls made a year earlier when Mikhail Gorbachev proposed the Soviet Union join the North Atlantic Alliance. By 1994, Russia had officially signed up to the NATO Partnership for Peace programme, a military-to-military cooperation initiative aimed at former Soviet bloc countries, which US President Bill Clinton described as a “track that will lead to NATO membership”.

However, Western countries never really took the idea of Russian NATO membership seriously. It’s possible they were suspicious of attempts to dilute the effectiveness of the alliance (the Soviet Union had tried to join NATO in 1954, likely indeed as a way to neuter the organisation). The Kremlin, however, was by the mid-1990s convinced that NATO expansion was an aggressive attempt to permanently undermine Russian security. Was the whole thing a missed opportunity? If NATO had seriously considered Russian membership (even as a long-term goal) might history have taken a very different path?

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Yvetta, who raised the point that in the 1990s there was indeed a debate about whether Russia might one day join NATO. But that was then. In today’s world (post-Crimean annexation) is the idea of Russian membership of NATO totally absurd?

To get a reaction, we put this question to James Kirchick, an American journalist, visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, and author of the book “The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues and the Coming Dark Age”. What would he say?

For another perspective, we put the same question to Leonid Gozman, a Russian liberal politician and President of the all-Russian public movement Union of Right Forces. How would he respond?

I think we must, MUST have Russia in NATO. Russia must be a member of NATO because Russia is a part of European civilisation. It’s a specific part of European civilisation – it’s Eastern Christianity – and there are many other specific things. But, as our prominent monarch Yekaterina the Great said, Russia is a European power. And Russia is really a European power, if you have ever been in Russia you will have seen our cities – some of them are beautiful and some of them are ugly, but they are European cities. Moscow and St. Petersburg are European cities…

So, NATO is not just ‘North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’. In my mind, NATO is a military alliance of European nations… So, from a [long-term] strategic point of view (not for now, because now we are closer to war than an alliance, unfortunately) we have a choice: either Russia is a member of NATO, or Russia is an enemy of Europe. Either, or. So, I prefer to see my country as a member of NATO.

Why is the idea of Russia joining NATO so far-fetched? Certainly, relations between Russia and the West haven’t been this strained since the Cold War. How did things get this bad? We had a comment from Maike who argues that NATO expansion is to blame. She thinks Russia was provoked into the annexation of Crimea by the possibility that Ukraine might one day join the EU and NATO.

How would Jame Kirchick respond?

Finally, what would Leonid Gozman say to the same question?

I disagree. I disagree with her. I think that, of course, both sides – I mean the EU and Russia – made some negative steps. But 80-90% of the problem is on our side. The main reason was there was a great crisis in Russia – an economic, political, and moral crisis – and Russian authorities tried to find an exit from this crisis by using nationalistic and terroristic rhetoric, so unfortunately our current leadership needs Europe and the United States as enemies, not as partners. They need them as enemies for domestic reasons, not for international reasons.

Could Russia ever join NATO? Why isn’t the possibility taken seriously? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: (c) BigStock – Elkov


49 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Franz M

    Well, yes, someday, if:
    – Russia bacomes a stable democracy
    – Gets rid of most of teh corruption
    – share common geostrategic goals and security intrests
    – some set of common values
    (So not in the next 20 to 30 years, if improvements begin today; similar to the question if turkey could joint the EU. Theoretically yes, but the current change and situation point the other way, and it yould take decades to fix it)
    the thing preventing that: Putin and his elite who profit from the current system, and do not want to change anything about it (free elections and corruption), who need an exterior threat and some occupations to pump up national supprt.

    • avatar
      jthk

      Today, how stable democracy can be? Can you not see the “gilets jaunes”are destroying the stability of democracies all over the world?

    • avatar
      Anonymous

      well EU is even more corrupted and it’s still a Nato country

  2. avatar
    Alex

    Year 2050: China GDP50trillion,EU 40trillion, USA 40trillion, Russia 3 trillion. I think that’s not to unrealistic. There is actually ONLY ONE obvious possibility if the Russians don’t want to become China’s equivalent of Belarus…They gonna pick the other one^^

  3. avatar
    Asawa

    Yes for real peace. Russia should join

  4. avatar
    Aubrey

    Sure, when Putin et al aren’t in charge, and the atmosphere in Russia moves away from neo-imperialist nationalism.

  5. avatar
    Arthur

    they were actually offered the option, but they rejected it in the 90s :) The situation is quite different now, though

    • avatar
      Grant

      Russia also acked to join around 2006/7 but the U.S. vetoed it

  6. avatar
    Alfredo

    Between 2001 and 2005 we were very close to it.
    We built a new buildings at NATO HQ Brussels to put offices for the permanent Russian delegation

    • avatar
      jthk

      The world has changed. Ever since the 911 and financial crisis broke out from the Wall Street, the US is in a deep crisis and the US is losing its hegemony, NATO with Russia would definitely be adding voice to Europe and US influence and control over Europe would be diminish. So, it is too late to talk about including Russia in NATO for the US is declining and it is highly suspicious to all potential competitor including a united Europe, starting from the current EU.

  7. avatar
    Paul

    There was a council formed to foster cooperation on matters of mutual interest & suggestions have been periodically floated for enhancing this…even to the extent of russia formally joining…though mostly hypothetically…..cooperation was suspended following russia’s agression in ukraine and annexation of crimea…now the 2 sides are very much in oposite camps and will remain so whilst Putin maintains Russia’s policy stance…

  8. avatar
    Roberto

    Impossible, war economy needs instability.

    • avatar
      Harold Baker

      The US NEEDS an enemy, absolutely correct. After the collapse of USSR the US could have invested in Russia the same way they did with Germany and Japan after WW2 to promote prosperity and democracy within Russia, but of course they didn’t and instead provoked Russia with NATO expansion.

  9. avatar
    Gustav

    Yes, it could, but the russian leadership would lose its greatest asset; the threat. They need to project the threat to stay in power.

    • avatar
      Paschalis

      I think you are confusing it with the USA…

    • avatar
      Gustav

      I don’t think the US and its leadership use “the threat” to the same degree as in Russia, but they absolutely use it.

    • avatar
      Paschalis

      well this applies through out Europe! Every state requires a threat in order to protect itself…

    • avatar
      Gustav

      No, I don’t see that. There are only a few countries who have that particular culture as the ruling ideology.

    • avatar
      Paschalis

      Gustav then you are clearly missing the point if you could name me a number of states in the EU that is not using this as their basis in fortifying their military, that would be great?

  10. avatar
    George

    Peace is not good for the military industrial complex.
    Without Russia, there is no “adversary”, no fear, no excuse to waste billions on new weapons.
    The military industrial complex will never allow it.

    • avatar
      Gustav

      Oh, we still have China, and the taliban!

    • avatar
      Florin

      Russia IS the military industrial complex, all they manufacture is weapons and vodka 👍

    • avatar
      I have no Idea what i’m talking about

      But the military industrial complex would still have the middle east and China. They aren’t as scary but if they do their propaganda right they could get the general populace to fear them.

  11. avatar
    Florin

    Putin would not be able to stay in power without the NATO threat/enemy, so no

  12. avatar
    jthk

    NATO is not Europe. It is America led Europe, a way to submit Europe to American control, I do not see why Russia needs to join NATO. If Russia has to join Europe, it has to be a new union built exclusively for Europe states and for European interests.

  13. avatar
    jthk

    Russia’s reunion with Europe would make Europe a very powerful region which the US unilateralism would not be able to sustain. So, the US would try its best to exclude Russia. However, there are some voices seeking to line up with Russia in the US confrontation with China. Again, this serves only for US interest not that of Europe. When China is weakening, Russia would be the next one that the US would be dealing with. If Russia is weakening again, Europe and the whole world would be submitted totally to US hegemony. As we have seen what the US is doing now, I think no one would believe again a “Paix America” can be a fair world order.

  14. avatar
    Dan

    We must only agree to Russia joining NATO if they promise they will base most of their naval forces in the ports of the three Baltic nations.They must also agree to base a large tank division in the centre of Poland,and also move the bulk of the red army back into their old bases in Eastern Germany.
    Honestly if anyone is stupid enough to to go along with this idea is it any wonder that leaders like Putin and Trump think we are pathetic and look down on us with contempt

  15. avatar
    Stadex

    Nato exists to counter Russia. That is why Nato countries will never allow Russia to join. Europe and Russia must come to an agreement about security, even if the United States will absolutely hate it. It’s simple geography, you can walk from Brussels to Moscow, you can’t walk from Brussels to Washington. Europe needs Russia as a partner and Russia is deeply dependent on Europe as a consumer of Russian products. To make it very simple, Russia has nukes, France has Nukes, Britain has Nukes, uncle Sam has nukes everybody has nukes. Now you can either chose to be enemies with the nuclear armed country that has the power to destroy you or you can make a deal, doesn’t it make sense to make a deal?

  16. avatar
    Georgi

    ISIS is more likely to join NATO than Russia.

    • avatar
      Kamil

      Utter nonsense.

  17. avatar
    Ludwig

    Not before cleaning and this is not en easy game to come out of the dirty tunnel

  18. avatar
    Civis

    They’ve never been able to accept others as equal, only as vassals, and react only if they’re met by superior force.

  19. avatar
    Panayiotis

    if Russia join NATO who will buy weapons again? will be bankrupt war industry worldwide

  20. avatar
    Maksym

    Could Russia join NATO? Russia? Nato? You guys are still drunk? Could ISIS join NATO? Let’s debate! Come one! Why not? Just wondering, just asking, just like nothing is happening. Russia. NATO. Lmao. You made my day.

  21. avatar
    Marius

    Talking about that only after their retrait from the occupied teritories in Ucraine ( Crimeea), Georgia and Republic of Moldova ( Transnistria).

  22. avatar
    Georgi

    and EU. This is unavoidable. But as with Turkey will take another couple of generations. 2060-2070es

  23. avatar
    Civis

    Anyone suggesting this must be joking.

  24. avatar
    Robert

    why not then russia coud be like the Tory party and fight with itself

  25. avatar
    Manuel

    Russia, Putin as president, does not want to belong to the NATO, has always turned its back on Europe and even more I do not see him being an ally of the US.

    would be very interesting a NATO summit between Trump and Putin

  26. avatar
    Peter

    Of course … as soon as it gives up ist Great Power Status ;) and maybe not under the name of NATO but rather as part of a future European Army.

  27. avatar
    Saddam bin Gaddafi

    If Russia to join NATO then Russia won’t attack or wage the war on its NATO allies since it’s a member of it and cannot attack because its troops and NATO troops are stationed in all over European countries it would be like as if shooting your self in a foot, but the USA do not want Russia to be part of NATO or a friendly country in EU, USA wants EU to view Russia as an enemy because the USA makes money by selling weapons to NATO like f35 and other, if Russia join NATO then USA needs to leave NATO thats the only way it will ever happen, USA will never be allies with Russia never, EU can and probably will be in near future, but USA won’t, USA hates competition and can’t afford Russia to be a super power, look USA in debt 21trillion Russia has few billion, Petro dollar is falling, most Americans live on borrow money they live a lie, they don’t have anything except debt, USA economy is build on debt

  28. avatar
    Anonymous

    How? NATO’s objective was to counter Warsaw pack. Now that is gone, only Russia remains. Now NATO’s objective is to crush Russia.

    What will NATO gain? By allowing Russia to join, NATO invalidates its own existence. Also, America would just veto against it.

    Why would Russia trust us? We promised not to expand, we expanded, making them nervous. We put American weapons on its doorstep and let them exercise near the boarder then call Russia aggressive.

    Honestly, Iraq is more likely to join NATO than Russia do.

  29. avatar
    Barry Curtis

    Europe has always been a continent, that has seen major power struggles between the strongest countries and alliances, especially over the past 220 years. I feel that the future mindset needs to change, Europe and Russia needs to move away from reintroducing the second cold war, and seriously consider moving towards NATO, the main reason is that a neutral organisation needs to remain in place that brings all 48 countries together including America, Canada and Turkey into a powerful military union, that would have 11,5 million military personnel (Regular & Reserve) under its control. By doing so the current fear factor especially in the Baltic’s would change, Europe from Iceland right up to the Urals, would for the first time see transparency and major reductions in military forces that can potentially bring long lasting peace. The new alliance can become a force for good that will support the United Nations in promoting world peace, instead of the current us and them thinking that could destroy the fragile peace that all Europeans and Russians have taken for granted over the past thirty years.

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