Ukraine crisis: What is NATO and what is its purpose, NATO member states, and is Ukraine in NATO?

NATO’s original aim was to counteract the threat of post World War Two Russian expansion in Europe.

NATO is a key factor in the escalation of tensions between Ukraine and Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin asked for reassurances that Ukraine will not join the global organisation, but NATO pushed back, stating that any independent country is free to join.

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The ongoing tension has resulted in various Russian troops being mobilised along the border with Ukraine and ultimately an invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, after an estimated 40 to 50% of Russia’s troops being ordered into Ukraine rebel regions on February 22nd.

German Bundeswehr soldiers of the NATO enhanced forward presence battalion waits to greet German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht upon his arrival at the Rukla military base on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. Photo: AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis.

Amid this conflict, here’s what the organisation is and what it aims to do.

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What is NATO and what is its purpose?

NATO is an acronym standing for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Spanish pilots and soldiers stand in front of a Spanish Eurofighter EF-2000 Typhoon II aircraft during the visit of the Spanish Defence Minister Margarita Robles at Graf Ignatievo airbase near Plovdiv on February 21, 2022. Spain has deployed four fighter jets to fellow NATO member Bulgaria. Photo: Nikolay DOYCHINOV / AFP.

Formed after the Second World War in 1949, it’s a military alliance originally made up of 12 countries, including the US, Canada, the UK, and France.

Part of its function is to keep global peace, as members agree to come to one another's aid in the event of an armed attack against any other member state.

Its original aim was to counteract the threat of post-war Russian expansion in Europe.

In 1955, Soviet Russia responded to NATO’s creation with its own military alliance of Eastern European communist countries, known as the Warsaw Pact.

Russia and China vs NATO

President Putin has argued for years that the United States broke a promise not to expand NATO into the east.

He claims that Western world powers are using NATO to encroach on Russia’s own borders and powers.

On several occasions, Putin has called on NATO to cease military activities in Eastern Europe.

In the past, when Ukrainians overthrew their pro-Russian president in 2014 and Russia responded by annexing Ukraine’s southern Crimean peninsula, NATO responded indirectly by placing troops in several eastern European countries.

The alliance currently has four multinational groups of troops in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, as well as a multinational brigade in Romania.

In recent weeks, the United States has sent nearly 3,000 extra troops to both Poland and Romania to reinforce these borders amid rising tensions, with a further 8,500 on battle alert.

The UK has similarly supplied Ukraine with 2,000 short-range anti-tank missiles and send 350 more troops to Poland and an extra 900 troops to Estonia, with 1,000 more on standby.

Who is in NATO?

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, a number of these member countries joined NATO.

As a result, the alliance now has 30 members, including countries like Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and other countries in Eastern Europe.

Is Ukraine in NATO?

Notably, Ukraine is not currently a member of NATO, but it is a partner country.

This means that there is an understanding between Ukraine and NATO that the country may join in the future.

The current tensions between Ukraine and Russia stem from Russia attempting to prohibit Ukraine from joining NATO.

Western powers, led by the United States, have backed Ukraine’s autonomy in being able to choose its own security policies and therefore being able to join NATO if it chooses.

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