Back in 1949, the eastern half of Europe languished in slavery to the Soviet Union. Not wanting Western Europe to end up in the same boat, the United States and its allies formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). As part of the propaganda war, NATO declared that any European country could join. However, a unanimous vote the member-states had to approve each new admission.
In one of the great triumphs for humanity, the Soviet system and empire finally collapsed of its own grave defects. Subsequently, many of the former “puppet states” joined NATO. They also joined the separate, but closely over-lapping European Community (EC). In both cases, they had to meet specific standards covering a wide range of social, economic, and political issues. The former German Democratic Republic became a member in 1990 when it merged with the German Federal Republic; Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined in 1999; Bulgaria, Rumania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) joined in 2004. All of these countries wanted both safety and prosperity.
Seen from the Russian perspective, NATO (i.e. the United States) had taken advantage of Russia’s period of post-Soviet weakness and disintegration to push forward its frontline right to the borders of historical Russia. Indeed, the admission of the Baltic states added a first chunk of the lands won for Russia by Peter the Great. In 2008, President George W. Bush got NATO to declare that Ukraine and Georgia would join NATO at some future point. Who knows what further, ever-farther-from-the-Atlantic additions might follow? Russia began punching back.
Subsequently, people came nearer to their senses. NATO has dragged its feet on presenting a plan of work to the two countries. Both France and Germany have shown themselves wary of admitting Ukraine. In 2014, the Obama Administration did little of substance to bolster Ukraine after the Russians re-took the Crimea and fomented rebellion in two heavily ethnic Russian administrative divisions (“oblasts”) of Ukraine. Given the unanimity requirement, there is little chance that Ukraine could join NATO in the foreseeable future.
Here’s the thing: neither Russia nor the West wants Ukraine in NATO. One reason the West doesn’t want Ukraine in NATO because of the intractable barriers to entry. For one thing, it has been through a number of revolutions and doubtful elections. It hardly meets the definition of a stable democracy. Then there is a good deal of buyer’s remorse inside the EC and NATO over the admission of Hungary and Poland. Why add one more questionably-democratic country to a community already threatened by disintegration? For another thing, Ukraine is a “kleptocracy.” It also has a bad record on honest dealing with post-Soviet Russia.
Another reason is that it could well involve fighting to defend Ukraine. It is unlikely to involve a direct military confrontation. More likely would be a Russian-directed campaign of subversion and insurrection. There is no reason to think that the army of Ukraine is any more robust than were the armies of Iraq when ISIS attacked or the Afghan National Army when the Taliban went on its final offensive. No Westerner wants another quagmire.
Perhaps “neutralization” on the Finnish or Austrian model might work?
 Edward Wong and Lara Jakes, “Why the Members of NATO Won’t Let Ukraine Join Anytime Soon,” NYT, 14 January 2022.
 Transparency International ranks Ukraine 117th on a list of 180 countries.