Putin’s NATO argument for war in Ukraine is veil for true intentions in near-abroad

Putin needs 'some sort of victory' by May 9 to mark anniversary Ukrainian MP

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Russia stands accused of “terrible” war crimes in Bucha as masses of civilians were found to have been murdered after Russian troops pulled out of the northern Ukrainian city. Unarmed citizens were discovered scattered in shallow graves in both Bucha and other regions north of Kyiv that had been occupied by Russian troops, many of them with their hands tied behind their backs, unarmed and helpless. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has described the Kremlin-ordered attack as an act of genocide.

He said his country’s refusal to be subdued by Russia was the reason “we are being destroyed and exterminated,” describing the war in a television interview as “torture of the whole nation”, while Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dymtro Kuleba, said Russia was “worse than ISIS”.

Witnesses of the alleged atrocities have told media publications of the horrors they witnessed, including firing on men fleeing the town through humanitarian corridors and killing civilians at will, including children.

It is a far cry from Russia’s argument for invading Ukraine: that it is liberating the country’s people from a tyrannical Nazi leader and an imposing western allied organisation, NATO.

Russia’s prolonged aggression towards Ukraine is, according to the Kremlin, a response to NATO’s encroachment in Eastern Europe.

In 2008, the outfit pledged to make Ukraine a member and later made the country part of its enhanced opportunity partner interoperability program in 2020.

But, Natia Seskuria, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), said she believed the NATO argument from Russia was a veil hiding the Kremlin’s true intentions of ensuring Russia’s near-abroad does not become democratic.

This, she said, included the likes of Georgia, which was also promised NATO membership in 2008 — an event that many say contributed to the country being invaded by Russia in the same year.

She told Express.co.uk: “First of all, I don’t think that this whole military adventure is about NATO as the Russians are trying to sell it.

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“I think it’s about Ukraine’s democratic future and Putin’s fear about having westernised democratic states in the neighbourhood.

“This is also concerning to Georgia because we saw 14 years ago how it was invaded as a result of its western aspirations and nothing more.

“President Zelensky has explained his rationale [for dropping Ukraine’s NATO bid] which is true in a way — that it’s not Ukrainians not wanting to join NATO but NATO not wanting to offer membership.

“And so, Ukraine in a sense is in a deadlock, because it is facing an existential challenge.

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“This rejection of the NATO membership pledge is very concerning for countries like Georgia because, just like in Ukraine, the NATO and EU membership aspirations have been enshrined in the constitution, and the absolute majority of Georgian citizens — around 80 percent — are behind their country’s application to join NATO and the EU.”

On March 15, Mr Zelensky for the first time acknowledged that Ukraine will not become a NATO member.

It came as Kyiv was pounded by Russian missiles and the invading force appeared to tighten its grip on the capital.

At least five people were killed at the time, prompting the city to impose a 35-hour curfew.

Mr Zelensky made the concession while talking to leaders from the new Joint Expeditionary Force, a UK-led initiative bringing together ten north Atlantic countries to create a capability for responding rapidly to crises.

He said: “It is clear that Ukraine is not a member of NATO; we understand this.

“For years, we heard about the apparently open door, but have already also heard that we will not enter there, and these are truths and must be acknowledged.”

One of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demands before unleashing his offensive on Ukraine was that its membership of NATO should be ruled out indefinitely.

But the scale of his attack has widely been interpreted to undermine this line of reasoning, and has led many to conclude that what Putin really wants is regime change in Ukraine.

For now, Russia appears to be withdrawing from northern Ukraine, after pledging last week to scale-back its assault.

However, world leaders, including Mr Zelensky, have suggested that this is simply a stalling tactic in order for Russia’s military to regroup.

The Ukrainian President himself has said his forces are preparing for renewed aggression in the south and southeast of Ukraine, as Putin is expected to focus his efforts on areas Russia already dominates.

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