Finland, Sweden Close To Dropping Neutrality, And Join NATO – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was ostensibly to de-nazify the country and stop the eastward expansion of NATO. Now, instead of fracturing the alliance, as Russian President Vladimir Putin expected, NATO may be expanding.
Finland and Sweden, who have proclaimed neutrality for decades, are looking at the Russian aggression in Ukraine and are justifiably concerned for their own countries. And both are close to making a decision on joining NATO.
This will have significant ramifications in the Baltic region as well, which will be detailed below.
This would be a severe blow to Russian prestige and an unexpected reaction to the ongoing bloody fight in Ukraine. On Thursday, Finland’s president and the prime minister said that their country must apply to join the NATO military alliance as soon as possible.
In a joint statement, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said that Finland joining NATO is an option for the country after a report on national security was submitted to parliament.
“NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance. Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay. We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days.”
Russia Calls This “ A Threat” And Vows “To Respond”
After the joint announcement by the Finnish president and prime minister, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Finland’s decision would not lead to more security and is another threat to Russia.
“As we have said many times before, NATO expansion does not make the world more stable and secure,” Peskov said to the news media in a statement.
As to Russia’s reaction to this latest development, which was not unexpected, Peskov added, “It will depend on what this expansion process will entail, how far and how close to our borders the military infrastructure will move.”
However, Finish President Niinisto pushed back with the reply, “You caused this. Look at the mirror,” he said, referring to Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. And his statement mirrors that of the vast majority of Finns.
Prior to the February 24 invasion, only about 30 percent of the Finnish people were in favor of joining NATO. Since then, that number has skyrocketed to 80 percent in one poll. In another, the approval percentage was at 76 percent, with only 12 percent against, showing that the Finnish people believe that Russian intentions go beyond Ukraine.
How Does the Dynamic Change Between Russia and NATO?
The answer to that question is: It will change vastly. Finland shares an 800-mile border with Russia, and it would more than double Russia’s borders with NATO countries. After World War II, Finland, which fought against the Soviet Union, lost 10 percent of its territory.
This is the nightmare scenario that Putin has said he wants to avoid by invading Ukraine. Now it has had the opposite effect, and he only has his own decision to blame for this latest expansion of NATO, the ninth since 1949.
The Finnish military has 280,000 active-duty troops and 800,000 reservists and, despite not being a member of the alliance, has kept a close relationship with the West for decades. Sweden doesn’t have a border with Russia, but its air force is one of the strongest in Europe and would bolster the strategically important Baltic defenses.
If both decide to join NATO, which is expected to happen by Sunday, then their applications for membership are expected to be approved quickly. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said that the application by Finland would be “warmly welcomed.”
“This is a sovereign decision by Finland, which NATO fully respects. Should Finland decide to apply, they would be warmly welcomed into NATO, and the accession process would be smooth and swift. Finland is one of NATO’s closest partners, a mature democracy, a member of the European Union, and an important contributor to Euro-Atlantic security,” he said.
Both Finland and Sweden have asked for security assurances from NATO and have received them from the United States and the UK that would protect them during the “gray zone” time between application and membership. During that time, the two countries would not yet be covered under Article 5 of the alliance, which states, “an attack on one member is an attack on all.”
Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He has served as a US Army Special Forces NCO, and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for 19fortyfive.com and for another military news organization, he has covered the NFL for PatsFans.com for more than 10 years. His work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.