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Biden administration throws cold water on Ukraine joining NATO

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan says Ukrainian efforts to join NATO should be taken up “at a different time,” throwing cold water on the country’s desire to join the international alliance and potentially easing Russian tensions as President Vladimir Putin has begun accelerating rhetoric of potential nuclear war.

Ukraine formally applied to join NATO as a military partner on Friday, coinciding with Putin’s announcement that Russia would be formally annexing four occupied regions within Ukraine’s borders. If accepted, NATO-aligned forces would formally be drawn into the war, pitting forces in the West against the Russian military and, potentially, escalating the conflict.

NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier Friday that while it supports Ukraine’s right to pursue an alliance with NATO, all 30 allies need to reach a consensus on membership.

Putin, however, has previously expressed his country’s willingness to use nuclear weapons if provoked, prompting concern that any military escalation—including the implementation of a no-fly zone, as was suggested at the start of the war—could lead to possible retribution by Russian forces.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan talks to reporters during the daily news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on September 30 in Washington, D.C. Sullivan faced questions about President Vladimir Putin’s plan to annex four regions in Ukraine that held rigged referendums on joining Russia, a violation of international law.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The United States and NATO have continued to support Ukraine in the war. On Friday, Stoltenberg reaffirmed the alliance’s support of Ukraine retaking the annexed territories, while the U.S. Congress has passed a government-funding bill that included more than $12 billion in aid for the Ukrainian government.

However, it still remains a question what it will take—nuclear strike included—to draw U.S. forces into the conflict.

“We have had the opportunity to communicate directly to Russia a range of consequences for the use of nuclear weapons and the kinds of actions the United States would take,” Sullivan told reporters Friday. “I have also said before we are not going to telegraph these things publicly. All I can tell you is that the Russians understand where things stand on this issue, we understand where things stand on this issue, and I will leave it at that.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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