The grinding conflict in Ukraine would not have happened had Angela Merkel not barred Kyiv from joining NATO in 2008, an expert believes. The former German Chancellor expressed her view during the Bucharest summit, and was supported in the decision by the then French President Nikolas Sarkozy. At the time, Ukraine and Georgia’s aspiration to be part of the Western military alliance were welcomed, and it was agreed the nations would eventually become NATO members – but it was said the political conditions needed to join had not been met yet.
Professor John Bryson, chair in enterprise and economic geography at Birmingham Business School, told Express.co.uk: “It’s important to remember that we wouldn’t have had the Ukrainian conflict if Angela Merkel hadn’t blocked Ukraine’s application to join NATO about 15 years ago.
“So Ukraine could have been part of NATO, and then you wouldn’t have had this conflict, or you would have had a wider conflict.”
While Professor Bryson conceded Russia may have decided to invade Ukraine anyway even if it was a NATO member, he believes being part of the alliance would have been enough of a deterrent against a war in Europe.
He said: “I don’t think Russia would have invaded Ukraine.”
Speaking further about the causes of the conflict, the expert added: “Remember why this is all happening. This all goes back to the popular uprisings in Ukraine that shifted Kyiv towards a democracy, which Putin hated, because the danger was that it would then spread to Russia.
“And what Putin doesn’t want is an economically prosperous Ukraine, because Ukrainian people are so linked into family histories and networks back into Russia.
“The average Russian would think if the Ukrainian lifestyle is so amazing, why can’t Russians?
“And of course the answer is Ukraine has got an appropriate governance structure. Putin has demonstrated to us that autocracies don’t work, because you don’t have the freedom of the press to challenge politicians to encourage them to really question the decisions they’re making. That doesn’t happen in Russia.”
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Professor Bryson isn’t the first to believe there is a link between Ms Merkel’s decision in 2008 and the full-scale invasion of Ukraine being attempted by Russia.
German politician Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann told RTL/ntv in March that not allowing Ukraine to join NATO in 2008 was “a big mistake made by the French and Angela Merkel at the time”.
And in April 2022, a few weeks into the invasion of Ukraine, the country’s President Volodymyr Zelensky described the Franco-German decision not to endorse the US in including Kyiv in the military alliance as a “miscalculation”.
Referring to the massacre carried out by Russian troops in Bucha, he said: “I invite Ms Merkel and Mr (Nicolas) Sarkozy to visit Bucha and see what the policy of concessions to Russia has led to in 14 years.
Ms Merkel, however, replied at the time saying in a short statement she stood by her decisions in relation to the NATO summit held in 2008 in Bucharest.
Her spokeswoman added: “In view of the atrocities uncovered in Bucha and other places in Ukraine, all efforts by the government and the international community to stand by Ukraine’s side and to bring an end to Russia’s barbarism and war against Ukraine have the former chancellor’s full support.”
Ukraine’s NATO membership was shelved in 2010 following the election of pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych.
Germany grew increasingly reliant over the years on Russian energy over the years. In the 2010s, the country’s government supported the creation of the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline to double Russian gas imports.
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who served as foreign minister in two of cabinets led by Ms Merkel, said last year his adherence to the project was “clearly a mistake”.
He added: “We were holding on to bridges that Russia no longer believed in and from which our partners had warned us about.”