Thursday, Jul 07, 2022

Finland And Sweden To Apply For NATO Membership Later This Month Following Ukraine Invasion

If invading Ukraine was  Vladimir Putin’s bid to halt NATO expansion, it has not happened. The astute Putin appears to have further endangered Russia’s security by his Ukraine misadventure.

Representational Image
Representational Image AP

One reason why President Vladimir Putin invaded  Ukraine was to stop NATO expansion onto  Russia’s borders and ensure that the hostile western military alliance does not reach his country’s doorstep.  But the normally astute Putin appears to have miscalculated totally on Ukraine and taken an unnecessary gamble. The consequences of this misadventure could have deadly consequences for Russia.   

 The Russian army’s prowess as a fighting force is now being questioned as Ukraine with arms supplied by US and Europe has put up stiff resistance. The forces have withdrawn from the outskirts of Kyiv and now concentrating on the Donbas region, much closer to the Russian border. Despite scaling down the scope of the military operations, getting the entire Donbass geographical region will take a lot more time and energy and money. What is more, two of Russia’s Nordic neighbours  Finland and Sweden that have long proclaimed their neutral status are mulling over joining the trans-Atlantic alliance. Public opinion in these two countries has turned after seeing the devastation and suffering brought about by the war.   

The large-scale destruction that has reduced cities across Ukraine into rubble has rattled European nations and exposed the ugly side of Russia to people not averse to Moscow. The fear of similar assault is leading Finland and Sweden to consider formally joining NATO as protection against any such move by  Russia in future. The US and NATO are waiting with open arms to invite both these countries into their fold. If this happens, Russia will be completely hemmed in by the western military forces.

Former Prime Minister of Finland Alexander Stubbs, who had always favoured closer relations with EU, tweeted this morning " For all those following Finland’s track towards @NATO membership, looks like events will be unfolding 12May with positions outlined by our political leadership in sequence over a few days. The train is approaching NATO headquarters in Brussels. Application imminent."

So, the formal application of Finland to be part of NATO is to start as soon as the second week of May. NATO would definitely fast-track the process and build an iron-clad defence against Russia.

"I think the decision on Finnish NATO membership was taken on February 24, at five o’clock in the morning, when [Russian President Vladimir] Putin attacked Ukraine. That’s when the public opinion basically took a 180-degree turn,’’ Alexander Stubbs, former Prime Minister of Finland was quoted by  Al Jazeera in an interview.

In the beginning of the year, Finland’s current Prime Minister Sanna Martin had said that her country will remain neutral. Public opinion was against joining any military alliance. But as Stubbs noted that changed after the Russian troops marched into Ukraine. Echoing Stubbs,  Sanna Martin said in April that ``everything had changed’’ since February.

And if Finland joins NATO, Sweden cannot be far behind. Like Finland, Sweden had not been either in the Russian or NATO camps. Since 1814, Sweden has been at peace, adopting a non-alighned foreign policy during peace times and neutrality in wartime. In fact Sweden’s neutrality has ensured that it has not been at war for more than 200 years. This policy had served it well through World War 11,  because neither Germany not the allies had attacked Sweden.

But the events in Ukraine has shocked Sweden. Support for Ukraine resistance among the public has gone up, donations to help Ukrainian refugees are being collected. But more important than this is the Swedish government’s decision to send arms to Ukraine.  Stockholm sent out 5,000 anti-tank weapons manufactured by Saab, a well known Swedish defence manufacturer. 5,000 each of helmets and body shields was also in the consignment as well as 135,000 field rations.

Like Finland most Swedes have in the past wanted to stay out of big power politics. But that opinion has undergone a dramatic change and a growing number of citizens want Sweden to join NATO. While in Finland the government appears to be enthusiastic, Sweden is somewhat more cautious. Yet in the last few weeks the move has accelerated and there is talk of a ``joint leap’’ to apply for membership of NATO by May 12.

Both Sanna Martin of Finland and Magdalena Andersson of Sweden are due to meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on May 3 to discuss security issues and take a final call. Sweden and Finaland’s foreign ministers had met in Helsinki on April 29 for preparatory talks. After the talks  Sweden’s foreign minister Ann Linde, Finland’s foreign minister Pekka  Haavisto  said  “It is Finland’s wish that Finland and Sweden can adhere to the same timetable in respect of applying for membership to NATO,” said Haavisto at a press briefing following the meeting with Linde.

This is exactly what the US and its European allies had wanted. It seems only a matter of time before Finland and Sweden formally join NATO. The Cold War was over in 1991, but NATO continues to expand and grew from a 12-member founding group to 30 as of today. If  Putin believed he could stop NATO on its tracks by invading Ukraine, he miscalculated.