When Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine almost two months ago, the perceived threat of Kyiv joining Nato was a key justification for his unprovoked aggression.
But seven weeks on from his assault, the Russian president’s decision to use force to deter expansion of the military alliance may have become Nato’s greatest asset.
Finland and Sweden, countries that have long been wary of joining Nato, have taken “a major step” towards entering into the alliance, The Guardian reported. But the move has come with a threat that the Kremlin will “rebalance the situation” if they are admitted.
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Addressing reporters alongside her Swedish counterpart Magdalena Andersson, Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin yesterday said the Russian invasion has “changed Europe’s “whole security landscape” and “dramatically shaped mindsets” in the Nordic countries.
Finland must now be “prepared for all kinds of actions from Russia”, she continued, explaining that “everything had changed” when Moscow attacked Ukraine and that Helsinki would decide “quite fast, in weeks not months”, whether to apply to join Nato.
“The difference between being a partner and a member is very clear, and will remain so,” she added. “There is no other way to have security guarantees than under Nato’s deterrence and common defence as guaranteed by the alliance’s article five.”
Andersson echoed Marin’s comments about Russian aggression, saying there is “no point” in Sweden delaying its decision on whether to join the military alliance.
“There is a before and after 24 February”, she said, referencing the date on which Moscow began its invasion. “This is a very important time in history. The security landscape has completely changed. We have to analyse the situation to see what is best for Sweden’s security, for the Swedish people, in this new situation.”
Finland yesterday published a white paper setting out the ways in which its security outlook had “fundamentally changed” since Putin gave the green light for an invasion of Russia’s eastern European neighbour.
The document “made no recommendation on Nato” but will serve as the basis for a parliamentary debate after Easter”, The Guardian said.
Sweden’s ruling party, led by Andersson, also began “debating whether the country should drop its opposition to joining Nato”, the paper added, “abandoning a decades-long belief that peace was best kept by not publicly choosing sides”.
Nato officials have signalled “that Finland and neighbouring Sweden would be welcomed into the 30-member alliance if they applied”, the Financial Times reported. The move would, however, “reorder Europe’s security architecture” by extending Nato’s border with Russia and risks further “inflaming tensions with Moscow”.
“Finnish and Swedish accession would be a strategic debacle for the Kremlin,” said The Times’s Berlin correspondent Oliver Moody, who added that “one of the crowning ironies of Putin’s attempt to shore up Russia’s position by annexing its neighbour is that he is about to double the length of its land borders with Nato”.
Polling in both nations suggests that public opinion, once hostile to the idea of joining the alliance, has shifted in favour of Nato membership.
Recent opinion polls in Sweden “show that public support for joining Nato has climbed from 28% in February to 62% last month”, the BBC reported. And in Finland, a poll last week “showed 68% of Finnish respondents were in favour of joining the alliance, more than double the figure before the invasion”, The Guardian added.
“Voters in Finland and Sweden have long cherished their non-aligned status,” said the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent James Landale. But the outbreak of war on European soil has seen the mood change among Nordic onlookers.
The invasion “is transforming European security”, he added. It has not only given Nato “new purpose”, but appears to have hastened the arrival of “new members” too.
The Kremlin has made clear that it would consider Finland and Sweden’s accession to the military alliance a provocation. Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov warned that Moscow would seek to “rebalance the situation” with its own measures.
Peskov declined to give any details as to what Russia’s response would be. But his intervention was followed by Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, warning that it would end “talk of any nuclear-free status for the Baltics”.
Writing on Telegram, Medvedev claimed that Nato was considering admission of the two nations with “minimal bureaucratic procedures”, adding that the development would leave Moscow with “more officially registered opponents”.
Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats “remained neutral in both the two world wars and in the Cold War”, The Telegraph said, while its former leader Olof Palme was “a vocal critic of both US and Soviet foreign policy”.
Finland “has maintained a policy of military neutrality designed to avoid confrontation with Russia since Nato was formed in 1949”, the BBC reported, despite fighting off an invasion from the Soviet Union in 1939 in what became known as the Winter War.
Joining Nato “would not only end the two states’ long traditions of military non-alignment”, said The Times’s Moody, but would also provide Nato with two more “capable and well-funded armed forces”.
Having launched his invasion over fears that Kyiv could one day join the alliance, the lasting legacy of Putin’s war may be the emergence of “Nato soldiers scarcely 100 miles from St Petersburg”, the Russian president’s home city.
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