The euphoria against Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO applications in Washington, London, Berlin and several other NATO capitals has blurred as Turkey has outlined what it requires to vote in favor of Nordic accession. Ibrahim Kalin, a senior aide to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said Turkey would withdraw its protest. only if Sweden stopped supporting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) with weapons and equipment; extradited 28 PKK members living in Sweden; and lifted the sanctions imposed on it by Stockholm. He said that Finland should extradite PKK members living in 12 countries.
Turkey considers the PKK to be a terrorist organization, as it does United States. So far, neither Sweden nor Finland has agreed to Ankara’s demands.
Although Sweden seems to be Turkey’s primary destination, Finland almost considers itself to have caused side damage. Helsinki appears to have received nine, not 12, extradition requests and accepted two of them; a decision on the third request has not yet been taken. The Finnish authorities consider that they have good relations with the Turks. They have emphasized to their colleagues that the accession of Finland and Sweden would strengthen NATO’s deterrent effect – not just in Northern Europe, but throughout the Alliance. They look optimistic that a solution will be found so that both countries can join NATO, and hope, albeit hardly, that Turkey will remove its protests in time. NATO Madrid Summit which begins on June 29.
Meanwhile, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s initially mild reaction to news of Sweden’s and Finland’s decisions, Russian spokesmen have continued to threaten the West to suffer “sanctions” if the countries continue their applications. In particular, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the European Union said that Finland’s accession to NATO raises questions the status of both the self-governing Åland, managed by Helsinki, and the 27-mile canal that runs from central Finland to Vyborg to Russia.
Finland shares an 807-mile border with Russia – the longest in Europe – and is unlikely to respond positively to Russia’s implicit threats. In fact, Finnish public opinion turned strongly to NATO’s position in response to Russia’s aggression, most recently against Ukraine. As a wise Finnish observer recently pointed out to me in Helsinki, the Russian desire for war had the opposite effect than it was intended; it strengthened Finns’ resistance to pressure from Moscow.
Indeed, the fall of 2021 EVA survey showed only 26 percent In December, when Russia gathered its troops on the Ukrainian border in a second poll, only 24 per cent of Finns were in favor of their country joining NATO. When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Finland’s public support for joining NATO rose to 53 percent and rose to 62 percent in April. 76 percent in May. The consensus in favor of Finland’s accession was so overwhelming that when the matter was voted on in Parliament, 188 out of 200 members voted in favor – The largest margin in the history of Finland in favor of any measure.
In addition, both the opinion polls and the parliamentary vote reflect a fundamental change in Finnish politics. While Helsinki’s policy in the past was not to break away from its huge neighbor, it largely reflected the country’s careful relationship with the Soviet Union, which critics mocked with “Finnishization” and its successor Russia, but now concluded that Russia had taken a break and freed Finland.
Finland has worked closely with NATO in general and Washington in particular for almost a decade. Joining NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) in 1994, 20 years later – the year Russia occupied and annexed Crimea – Helsinki became NATO Enhanced Opportunity Partner, the highest PfP level. During the Obama years, Finland further expanded its military co-operation with the United States, culminating in 2018 with the signing of an agreement with Sweden. Tripartite Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Defense.
Russia’s aggression also caused Helsinki to increase its defense spending from about 1.4 percent of GDP in 2020 to 1.85 percent in 2021 and 1.96 percent this year. In addition, the five-party ruling coalition agreed, without serious opposition, to oppose additional funding of € 2.2 billion over five years from 2023, raising its percentage of GDP above NATO’s 2% target.
Finnish leaders are optimistic about the country’s chances of joining NATO. Finland, together with Sweden, will transform the Baltic Sea into a NATO lake. It increases the focus on what was formerly called NATO’s northern side, but in reality, because the alliance is closer to Russia, it should be more accurately called NATO’s “northern front.” And it is yet another demonstration to the Kremlin that its attempts to bully its much smaller but determined neighbor can only retaliate.
Dov S. Zakheim is a senior advisor Center for Strategic and International Studies and Vice Chairman of the Board Foreign Policy Research Institute. He served as Minister of Defense (Inspector) and Chief Financial Officer of the Ministry of Defense from 2001 to 2004.