Finland and Sweden are offended by Russia as it moves closer to NATO membership

BRUSSELS – Finland will publish an official assessment on Wednesday of how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has changed its security environment and begins a process that is expected to end with a request for NATO membership.

The assessment, called the White Paper, will not recommend or oppose membership, according to the Finnish Foreign Ministry, but will be used as a starting point for parliamentary debates in which the country is considering a historic change in its defensive position.

Finland and Sweden’s neighbors are officially non-aligned militarily, but Russia’s aggression has led to a dramatic change in public sentiment – so much so that both countries are now expected to apply for membership in the coming months.

Their possible membership would reshape European security and provoke anger in the Kremlin. Russian President Vladimir Putin used NATO enlargement as a resolution to invade Ukraine. Now his brutal war there can bring the military alliance closer to his door.

Wednesday’s White Paper marks the beginning of the process for Finland, where support for NATO membership has risen to 68 percent, according to a recent poll.

“We will have very careful talks, but we will not take longer than we need in this process because the situation is of course very serious,” Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin told reporters last week. could follow. in late June.

Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats, who have traditionally opposed NATO membership, have also said they will reconsider their position in the coming months – although the exact timing and support is still unclear.

The issue of enlargement of the Alliance was discussed last week at a meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers in Brussels. Both NATO and US officials stressed that it was up to the countries to decide whether they wanted to join – but indicated that they would be welcomed if they applied.

Sweden and Finland already have deep ties with the Alliance. They have both worked with NATO on military cooperation, trained with Allied forces and met NATO standards when it comes to “political, democratic, civilian control over security institutions and forces,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg last week.

“There are no other countries closer to NATO,” Stoltenberg, Norway’s former prime minister, told reporters in Brussels.

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Washington has also indicated support. At a briefing last week, US Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith said the United States would “welcome” both countries if they wanted to join the Alliance.

“We have practiced; we have practiced with them. They bring a very capable army, “she said. “They are some of our closest allies in Europe, so I can not imagine a situation where there would be enormous opposition to this idea.”

As Helsinki and Stockholm consider whether to make it public, the key question is whether and how they will be protected from Russia’s possible aggression in the period between interest and actual membership, which could take many months.

Russia has warned of “serious military-political consequences” and “revenge” if the two countries merge. Despite the fact that Finnish leaders have largely downplayed the threat, the country is preparing for a variety of possible reactions from Russia, from serious to mostly symbolic, said Henri Vanhanen, a foreign policy expert and adviser to the Finnish Coalition Party.

Vanhanen expects NATO to find ways to “signal that Sweden and Finland are protected” in the meantime, such as committing to secure membership or strengthening military cooperation in some way.

“If they give us a signal that we are welcome, then it is in their interest that this goes as well as possible,” he said. “It would be a big shock for NATO to undermine their open door policy.

Stoltenberg said last week that he was “confident that the Alliance will find ways to address concerns about the period between a possible application and ratification,” but declined to give details of what is going on.

“I don’t think it’s helpful if I start wondering to the public exactly how we do it,” he said. “But I am confident that if they apply we will sit down and we will find a way to address that issue.

Putin’s war brings Finland and Sweden closer to joining NATO

Even without NATO protection, Finland and Sweden should theoretically have some common security. Article 42.7 of the Treaty on European Union states that if a member is a victim of an armed attack, other parties must come to his aid.

The Prime Minister of Sweden, Marin Finland, and Magdalena Andersson wrote a letter to the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, last month, highlighting the “increasing role of EU solidarity and mutual commitment in the new European security environment”.

At a meeting with the Swedish leader last month, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that the country “could rely” on the EU if Russia attacked.

Ryan reported from Washington.

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