Finland must apply to join Nato “without delay” in the wake of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, its president and prime minister have said, signalling a historic shift in the country’s security policy that drew a blunt warning of retaliation from the Kremlin.
With neighbouring Sweden expected to follow suit, Sauli Niinistö, Finland’s president, and Sanna Marin, the prime minister, made the call in a joint statement, adding: “We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days.”
Nato membership would strengthen Finland’s security, the two leaders said, and as a member of Nato, “Finland would strengthen the entire defence alliance. Finland must apply for Nato membership as a matter of urgency”.
The latest poll by public broadcaster YLE showed 76 percent of Finns in favour and just 12 percent against it, while support for membership used to linger at only about 25 percent for years prior to the all-out war in Ukraine.
The Nordic region
NATO membership for the two, joining regional neighbors Denmark, Norway and Iceland, would formalize their joint security and defense work in ways that their Nordic Defense Cooperation pact hasn’t.
NORDEFCO, as it’s known, focuses on cooperation. Working within NATO means putting forces under joint command.
Accession would tighten the strategic Nordic grip on the Baltic Sea — Russia’s maritime point of access to the city of St. Petersburg and its Kaliningrad exclave.
Finland and Sweden also join them, along with Iceland, at the heart of the triangle formed with the North Atlantic and maritime areas in the Arctic, to where Russia projects its military might from the northern Kola Peninsula. Integrated NATO military planning will become a lot simpler, making the region easier to defend.
Both are modernizing their armed forces and investing in new equipment. Finland is purchasing dozens of high-end F-35 warplanes. Sweden has top quality fighter jet, the Gripen. Norway currently operates American F-35 stealth jets. Sweden also provides patrol and surveillance capability through Gotland-class submarines in the Baltic Sea. Sweden stationed Gripen fighter jets on Gotland Island to deter Russian threats by sea and air.
Finland says it’s already hit NATO’s defense spending guideline of 2% of gross domestic product. Sweden too is ramping up its military budget and expects to reach the target by 2028.
The Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia would “definitely” see Finnish membership as a threat, and the foreign ministry in Moscow said it would have to take “military-technical” steps if Helsinki applied for Nato accession. “The expansion of Nato and the approach of the alliance to our borders does not make the world and our continent more stable and secure,” Peskov said. “Everything will depend on how this process takes place, how far the military infrastructure moves towards our borders.”
Russia’s foreign ministry said Moscow would be “forced to take reciprocal steps … to address the resulting threats to its national security”. It accused Nato of seeking to create “another flank for the military threat to our country” and said Helsinki should “be aware of its responsibility and the consequences of such a move”.
What does it mean?
Joining NATO would be a seismic shift for the Nordic nation, shattering a long-held belief that remaining outside the military alliance is the best way to avoid trouble with its giant neighbour.
But, even more significantly, it comes at a time when a country that has been neutral for even longer – Sweden – is also considering joining.
If Finland and Sweden join NATO, Russia would find itself completely surrounded by NATO countries in the Baltic Sea and the Arctic.
Considering Russia used fears that Ukraine would join NATO as part of its pretext to invade – highlighting anxieties about what Vladimir Putin has described as the “eastward expansion of NATO” – the Russians are not likely to be happy.
What will it mean for NATO?
Besides other members, analysts say Finland has modern and competent armed forces that would significantly boost NATO’s capabilities in Northern Europe. Finnish forces often train with NATO troops, so can already work with them highly effective.
Of course, considering it is a pact that requires members to defend others if they are attacked, it potentially raises the odds that a country will have to be defended because the number of members would increase.
So far, Moscow is doing nothing obvious to dissuade the two — apart perhaps from a couple of incidents where Russian planes entered their airspace. The Kremlin said Thursday that its response could depend on how close NATO infrastructure moves toward Russia’s borders.
Some at NATO worry that the Russians might deploy nuclear weapons or more hypersonic missiles to the Kaliningrad exclave, across the Baltic Sea wedged between allies Poland and Lithuania.
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