View from London: NATO’s failure to save Ukraine raises an existential question: “What on Earth is it for?!”

13:42 21.05.2024 •

NATO soldier from Estonia

Nato’s grand 75th birthday celebration in Washington in July will ring hollow in Kyiv. The alliance has miserably failed its biggest post-cold war test – the battle for Ukraine. Sadly, there’s no denying it: Vladimir Putin is on a roll, stresses ‘The Guardian’.

Advancing Russian forces in Kharkiv profit from the west’s slow drip-feed of weaponry to Kyiv and its leaders’ chronic fear of escalation. Ukraine receives just enough support to survive, never to prevail. Now even bare survival is in doubt.

Biden and Germany’s Olaf Scholz allow excessive, myopic caution to obscure military and moral imperatives. France’s Emmanuel Macron, abandoning appeasement, now claims only Russia’s defeat will save Europe. A bit late, Manu.

In Britain, Sunak prates disingenuously about unparalleled security dangers. He may scare UK voters – but he does not scare Putin or his “no-limits” enabler, China’s Xi Jinping, as last week’s defiant Beijing love-in showed. That’s because, for all their talk, like Nato as a whole, neither Sunak nor hawkish foreign secretary David Cameron, the Cotswolds kestrel, are prepared to step in directly to help Ukraine win. Thus, they render defeat more probable.

Nato should fast-track Ukraine’s full membership in July. But it won’t. The US has already decided against – and the rest tamely tag along. Kyiv is vaguely told it must wait until “conditions are right”. The actual, discreditable reason is Biden’s outdated, cold war-era fear of Russian retaliation.  

The frontline situation grows critical, partly because Russia has exploited the delay, caused by Donald Trump’s allies, in delivering a $60bn (£47bn) US weapons package. Secretary of state Antony Blinken admitted as much in Kyiv last week. Ukraine is also short of soldiers. Macron’s recent musings about sending ground troops were angrily dismissed out of hand in Washington and Berlin.

Trump is a wild card. If he beats Biden in November, former advisers are convinced he will pull the rug from under Ukraine and cosy up to Putin. They also believe he will move to quit Nato, initially by sabotaging or blocking operations. July’s birthday party may be Nato’s last. At which point, Europe really would be on its own.

“If Trump is re-elected and follows through on his anti-Nato instincts, the first casualty would be Ukraine,” wrote Alexander Vershbow, former US ambassador to Russia and Nato. “The disastrous consequences would only start there…”

Ill-led Nato cannot be relied upon to head off far-reaching disaster in Ukraine. So the question arises: what is Nato for? It’s not only Trump who’s asking. If they don’t raise their game, quickly, alliance leaders should cancel the champagne – and hang their heads in shame.


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