NATO: Swedish and Finnish neutrality evaporates in the face of Russian expansionism | International

Russia’s heinous offensive on Ukraine has not only failed in its main objectives on the ground – control of the entire Donbas region and the overthrow of the legitimate government in Kiev – it has also brought NATO closer than ever to integrating in its bloc to Sweden and Finland. The accession of the two Nordic countries, neutral for decades – centuries in the Swedish case -, would mean one of the greatest transformations in the recent history of the Alliance, and a tremendous setback for the interests of the Kremlin. Unlike many other states, Sweden and Finland have always kept the doors of the transatlantic organization wide open. However, both public opinion and the majority of political formations in both countries had been clearly against joining NATO. “On February 24 [el día del inicio de la guerra en Ucrania] It radically changed everything,” explains Eoin Micheál McNamara, a researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

At the end of last year, only one in five Finns and one in four Swedes were in favor of joining NATO; a few months later, the citizens of the two countries unquestionably support joining the Alliance. The latest polls show that only around 10% of the population in Finland reject entry, and that more than 60% of those surveyed in Sweden claim to join the military organization. “It is clear that the more than 1,300 kilometers of border with Russia have been a key factor in making the change in Finland even more drastic,” says Swedish political scientist Gunilla Herolf.

The reasons why the two Nordic countries have so far preferred to stay out of NATO are diverse, and with notable divergences between them. Sweden voluntarily chose to stop taking sides in other people’s conflicts at the beginning of the 19th century; Finland, however, had to accept a kind of neutrality imposed by the Soviet Union at the dawn of the Cold War that conditioned its foreign policy for more than four decades.

Unlike Finland, which has been the scene of three wars since it declared its independence from Russia in 1917 (one fratricidal, and two against the Soviet Union), Sweden has not been involved in any armed confrontation for more than 200 years, although he has participated in some peacekeeping missions supported by the UN. “Sweden has had since the beginning of the 20th century all the luck that Finland has lacked. And it was not her neutrality that kept her out of World War II, but the multiple concessions she made to Nazi Germany”, points out Herolf, a researcher at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.

After the fall of the Berlin wall, profound changes came for both countries. In 1995, both entered the European Union. Both Stockholm and Helsinki have reiterated that since then they have ceased to be strictly neutral, and even more so since the Lisbon Treaty came into force in 2009, which introduced the mutual defense clause (article 42.7). Finland and Sweden have insisted for the past decade that they were “militarily non-aligned countries.” Even so, Austria, which joined the EU together with the two Nordic countries, continues to this day to show off its neutrality.

At the beginning of this century, pacifist Sweden chose to gradually reduce its investment in defense and its military capabilities. This was not the case in Finland, where the fear of possible aggression from its imposing neighbor never entirely faded. After the Russian annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, in 2014, Stockholm reversed course: it reestablished compulsory military service, reinstated several regiments that it had disbanded during the previous years, and reinforced its naval and air capabilities.

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The expansionist airs that the Kremlin exhibited in 2014 in Ukraine —and in 2008 in Georgia— led Stockholm and Helsinki to adopt a new security strategy; their representatives began to participate in NATO meetings, and military exercises in which Finnish and Swedish soldiers rehearsed together with members of the allied armies became frequent. Even so, joining the organization founded in 1949 remained a long shot for both countries, but for different reasons. “Finland blindly trusted its military capabilities. The population was convinced that they did not need to be part of an alliance to be able to dissuade Russia from possible aggression”, says McNamara. In Sweden, however, “the link between peace and the non-alignment stance was deeply rooted,” Herolf stresses.

Finnish soldiers participated in NATO exercises at the end of March in Setermoen (Norway).
Finnish soldiers participated in NATO exercises at the end of March in Setermoen (Norway).JONATHAN NACKSTRAND (AFP)

The war in the Ukraine has put an end to the feeling of security that prevailed in Finland and Sweden. “The Finns quickly realized that with Russia so unpredictable, their situation was much more vulnerable than they realized,” McNamara interprets. “The population understood that they needed firm guarantees, and that these could only come under the protection of NATO and its collective defense clause. [artículo 5 del Tratado del Atlántico Norte]”, adds the expert. The reaction in the Finnish political class has also been dizzying; all the parliamentary forces that for decades rejected integration into the Alliance have reversed their position to give the green light to joining. The Prime Minister, the Social Democrat Sanna Marin, and the President, Sauli Niinistö, a member of the Green League, issued a joint statement last Thursday in which they urged to join the military organization “as soon as possible”. Niinistö informed the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, of the government’s position this Saturday. After the conversation, the Kremlin released a statement stating that “the end of the traditional policy of military neutrality would be a mistake, since there is no threat to Finland’s security.”

“When the Swedes began to be clear that Finland was going to join NATO regardless of what they decided, support for being part of the Alliance grew exponentially,” Herolf stresses. “The cooperation between Sweden and Finland in the military field has been total in recent years,” Michael Claesson, head of operations for the Swedish Armed Forces, explains by phone. “If only one of the two joined NATO, the other would clearly be in a weakened position by sitting on the sidelines,” continues the lieutenant general.

On Friday, one day after the Finnish leaders publicly showed their support for joining the Alliance, a report agreed by six of the eight main political formations was presented in the Swedish Parliament in which the new security situation generated after Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. The text highlights that Sweden’s entry into NATO would reduce the risk of the conflict spreading to northern Europe.

This Sunday, the Swedish Social Democratic Party will announce its final decision on joining the Alliance; most of the media in the Scandinavian country indicate that it will endorse the accession. The formation, which has ruled Sweden for much of the last century, had until now maintained a position radically against joining the military bloc. With the approval of the Social Democrats, only the ecologists and the ex-communists – who account for just over 10% of the seats – would maintain their opposition to accession.

The process of ratifying Sweden and Finland’s entry into the Atlantic Alliance would take between six and 12 months, according to organization sources. Internal reforms such as those undertaken by some of the last members to join would not be necessary: ​​there is no doubt about the solidity of the democratic institutions of both countries. Entry would have to be ratified by the Parliaments of the 30 current NATO members. “The addition of Sweden and Finland would considerably strengthen the capabilities of the allies, both in the Baltic Sea and in the Arctic region,” says Lieutenant General Claesson. And it would be a serious blow to Moscow, which, before launching its invasion of Ukraine, demanded guarantees from the Atlantic Alliance that it would not continue expanding eastward.

Turkey will address with Finland and Sweden the differences on its possible accession


Turkey expressed its reservations on Friday about the possible incorporation of the two Nordic countries into NATO, which it accuses of giving support to armed organizations such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). “I am sure that we will find a solution”, assured the Finnish Foreign Minister, Pekka Haavesto, this Saturday upon his arrival at the informal meeting with his counterparts from NATO countries in Berlin. Both Finland and Sweden have been invited to the meeting called by the German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock.

Both Haavesto and Ann Linde, the Swedish foreign minister, confirmed that they will meet with Ankara’s representative, Mevlut Cavusoglu, to resolve “misunderstandings” on the sidelines of the meeting. “Most of the Turkish people are against the incorporation of these two countries and ask us to block it,” said the Turkish minister upon his arrival at the meeting. “These are issues that we obviously need to address with our allies in NATO and with those countries,” Cavusoglu continued.

Although the meeting was convened to discuss the conflict in Ukraine, this Saturday only Turkey’s position was discussed. “We don’t know what Turkey means, but from the Norwegian point of view, we are 100% in favor of Finland and Sweden if they decide to apply,” said Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeld. Her Canadian counterpart, Melanie Joly, had spoken about it at the G-7 meeting held just a few hours earlier in northern Germany: “It is important that we reach a consensus. We not only want your income to occur, but also that it be fast; It is essential in the current circumstances.”

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