How Russia’s invasion of Ukraine pushed Finland and Sweden against NATO
1. Why are Finland and Sweden not members of NATO?
Both countries are conducting military exercises with NATO and are increasingly sharing intelligence with it. They are part of the Alliance’s Partnership for Peace program, which promotes cooperation with non-members, and are, along with Ukraine, among six so-called Enhanced Opportunity Partners that make “particularly significant contributions to NATO operations.” But they did not join the group earlier for historical reasons.
• Finland has spent the 104 years since its independence on its toes around Russia, the giant to its east, with which it has approximately 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) of border. Two wars against the Soviet Union between 1939 and 1944 were followed by a policy of respect and self-censorship against the Soviets, which came to be known as Finnishization. After the end of the Cold War, Finland began to turn more towards democracies in Western Europe, join the European Union and adopt the euro. But the ghost of Finnishization lingered and the Finns stuck to the cornerstone of their foreign policy: to maintain good relations with Russia. The country’s leaders did not see NATO as a viable option, and public opinion, until now, was determined to join.
• Sweden stayed out of both world wars, and since the two superpowers competed for influence during the Cold War, neutrality was seen as the best way to ensure the country’s independence. Nevertheless, Sweden’s defense during the Cold War was designed to deter a Soviet invasion, and the country secretly cooperated with NATO. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Sweden’s policy was officially renamed military freedom of alliance and its defenses were significantly reduced. But since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, Sweden has gradually increased military spending and sought ever closer cooperation with NATO.
2. What would their accession to NATO do?
Including Finland and Sweden in the alliance would undoubtedly make it easier to stabilize security in the area around the Baltic Sea and to defend NATO members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. These countries are often seen as a potential target of Russian aggression because they have significant ethnic Russian minorities, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has used the protection of such people as a pretext for intervention in Ukraine. Including Finland and Sweden would add to NATO two sophisticated, well-equipped military whose equipment is already compatible with that used by the Alliance. It would extend NATO’s border with Russia, which now covers only 6% of Russia’s land area, and enable the Alliance to improve its surveillance of the country’s western flank.
3. What does it take to join NATO?
NATO’s 30 participating countries must agree to welcome a new member. The criteria for aspirant nations include a functioning democracy based on a market economy, fair treatment of minority populations, a commitment to resolve conflicts peacefully and a willingness and ability to make a military contribution to NATO operations. Sweden and Finland are among the world’s most developed nations with stable democracies and highly trusted political institutions. It is not a requirement that citizens bless a move to join, but a favorable public opinion gives legitimacy to a country’s offer of membership.
4. How fast could it happen?
Sweden and Finland did not expect any opposition to their applications until Turkey suddenly objected. Then, on June 28, at the start of a NATO summit, Turkey suspended its opposition after both countries promised to address their concerns, especially about their treatment of Kurdish groups that Turkey considers terrorists. It is likely that the connection process will go faster than for previous participants. A dozen countries that have joined the alliance since 2004 have followed a gradual process under NATO’s accession action plan, but Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has repeatedly said that the two nations meet NATO standards “in most areas” and that the process can go “very well. Quickly”. . ” Finland and Sweden estimate that the timeline is as long as one year, with ratifications in 30 countries.
5. How has Russia reacted to the idea?
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on May 12 that Finland’s accession to NATO would “definitely” be a threat to Russia. Russia has previously warned of “serious military and political consequences” from the Finnish and Swedish accession, which demands that Russia “respond”. In April, Russia said it would deploy nuclear weapons in and around the Baltic Sea region if the two agreed. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda dismissed the threat as “empty” and accused Russia of having already deployed tactical nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad, its enclave in the Baltic Sea. Russia had warned the Baltic states of serious consequences before joining NATO in 2004, but it turned out to be a hoax. On the other hand, Montenegro said in 2016 that it had thwarted a Russia-backed plan to assassinate then-Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic because of the country’s plans to join NATO, which were realized a year later. A court in 2019 sentenced 14 people, including opposition leaders and Russian and Serbian citizens, to as many as 15 years in prison for staging the failed conspiracy, even though an appellate court last year overturned the verdicts. Finns expect to face more espionage, cyber attacks, airstrikes and Russian influence if they become part of NATO.
6. How are Finland and Sweden changing?
They are increasing military cooperation with each other and with other nations, a work that began to accelerate before the war in Ukraine. In early March, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto visited US President Joe Biden, who in a joint telephone conversation with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson promised to deepen cooperation between the three nations, and later the US made security guarantees for both. They have also signed security cooperation agreements with the United Kingdom. NATO’s promise of collective defense applies only to members and an extended period outside the alliance without a security guarantee would risk a backlash from Russia that the applicant would face on its own. They both intend to continue to increase defense spending, with Sweden’s long-term plan to increase funding for the armed forces by almost 30% from 2021 to 2024.
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