Invasion of Ukraine and threats from the Kremlin bring Sweden and Finland closer to NATO | International
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The brutal offensive in Ukraine and Russia’s threats to Sweden and Finland not to apply for NATO membership have provoked the opposite reaction to that desired by the Kremlin: the two Nordic countries, neutral for decades, are closer than ever to become part of the Atlantic Alliance. The possible adhesion to the military organization has dominated the political debate in Stockholm and Helsinki for weeks. Meanwhile, support for integration has skyrocketed among the Swedish and Finnish population.
The Prime Minister of Finland, Sanna Marin, said on Wednesday that Helsinki will decide “in the coming weeks” whether or not to start the procedures to join the military organization. Her statements were made in Stockholm, after meeting with her Swedish counterpart, also a Social Democrat Magdalena Andersson, who was more cautious, although she has not denied the information published by the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet in which it was stated that the president would be willing to second a request to join the Alliance in June.
The entry of the two Nordic countries into the Alliance would raise the number of members to 32. At the end of June, a NATO meeting will be held in Madrid in which the formal procedures for entry could begin. Sweden would become the sixth largest country in the military bloc and the border between the Alliance and Russia would become more than twice as long (the 1,360 kilometers that separate Finland from its imperialist neighbor would be added to the slightly more than 1,200 that there are now on the borders of Poland, Norway, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania). The armies of Sweden and Finland are also much larger and better prepared than those of Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia, the only countries that have joined the Alliance since seven new partners joined in 2004.
In the months leading up to the war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin repeatedly demanded a firm commitment from NATO that the organization would not expand further into Russia’s borders. He also urged the US and other Western allies to end any military activity in the Eastern countries that joined the transatlantic club after the end of the Cold War. Less than 48 hours after the Russian Armed Forces began attacking the former Soviet republic, Maria Zajárova, the Foreign Affairs spokeswoman in the Putin government, threatened Stockholm and Helsinki with “serious political and military consequences” if they requested her entry into the country. The alliance. Warnings from the Kremlin have been going on ever since; some very bawdy, like that of senator Vladimir Djabarov, who stated that Finland was seeking “its destruction as a country”.
The verbiage of the acolytes of the Russian president has not intimidated Sweden and Finland. Since long before the start of the war, the governments of Marin and Andersson have reiterated that the decision to enter the transatlantic organization or not would depend exclusively on them. And in recent days his intention has been confirmed. The Finnish head of government said Wednesday in the Swedish capital that the advantages and disadvantages of accession are being analyzed, but that it will be “a quick process.” “A matter of weeks,” she added. In March she had already indicated that the matter should be resolved before the end of this spring. The Finnish Parliament will start debating the new security policy next week.
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In Sweden, in the Social Democratic Party – which governs in a minority and has defended a position outside the Alliance for decades – voices have begun to appear demanding membership. The conservative Moderate Party, the main opposition formation and favorite for the September elections according to the polls, has taken advantage of the situation to try to take political advantage of the position in favor of NATO for which it has traditionally advocated. And it has joined the cause to the extreme right (Swedish Democrats), the third party with the highest representation in the Riksdag (Parliament).
For decades – or even centuries in the Swedish case – the two Nordic countries have maintained a policy of neutrality, albeit with notable differences in its origins and the way they are interpreted. sweden started proprio motu not to take sides in the conflicts of others at the beginning of the 19th century; Finland, for its part, had to accept a neutrality imposed by Moscow, after having repelled an invasion of the Soviet Union that began in 1939 and having fought alongside Nazi troops against the common enemy.
At an informative breakfast held at the end of March, the Finnish ambassador in Madrid, Sari Rautio, and her Swedish counterpart, Teppo Tauriainen, stressed that the two countries, being members of the European Union, had ceased to be neutral for a long time. more than a decade. Specifically, since 2009, when the Lisbon Treaty came into force, which introduced the mutual defense clause (article 42.7). The two diplomats insisted that Sweden and Finland were “non-aligned” countries.
The change in trend caused by the start of the war in Ukraine is perceptible in leaders such as Prime Minister Marin, who in January said in an interview with this newspaper that accession was not on her agenda. But public opinion has also been transformed in Sweden and Finland, two of the six EU members that are not integrated into NATO. A poll last December conducted by a public body revealed that 24% of Finns were in favor of joining the Alliance; four months later, almost seven out of 10 citizens support the entry. In the case of Sweden, a Kantar survey in early March showed that, for the first time, more than half of the citizens supported joining the military organization. Polls also showed that both Finns and Swedes preferred that the two countries join NATO jointly, an option that Finland’s Marin also backed on Wednesday. “I would prefer a similar solution for the whole region, but it is up to Sweden to make its decision,” she said.
Sweden and Finland’s relationship with NATO had already become very close over the last decade, especially after Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014. The Alliance’s secretary general, the Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg, has reiterated in countless occasions that both countries are more than welcome. And he has defined them as the “two closest partners” to the organization. Swedish and Finnish representatives have frequently attended the organization’s meetings at the Brussels headquarters and the Armed Forces of the two Nordic countries have participated in countless military maneuvers organized by the Alliance.
During those years, the two countries have increased military spending and taken preventive measures. Last January, Sweden sent hundreds of troops to the island of Gotland, in the Baltic Sea, after its Defense Minister, Peter Hultqvist, warned that an attack in the area could not be ruled out. A few days before the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, Finland sealed the purchase from the United States of 64 F-35 fighters—the most advanced combat aircraft on the market—; and last week it announced that it would increase defense investment by 70% over the next four years.
“Any advantage that the non-alignment policy might have has disappeared during this month and a half,” Pekka Virkki, an Estonian consultant specializing in international relations based in Helsinki, argues in an email.
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