As Putin rages, some outsiders are moving closer to NATO
The harsh speeches of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the threat of military rearmament on the Ukrainian border could backfire and lead to one thing that he does not want: an expansion of NATO to other countries on Russia’s doorstep.
While Putin is demanding guarantees from the West that Ukraine and others will not be allowed to join the Western military alliance, some countries in the region that have long avoided NATO membership in favor of a policy of neutrality are rethinking a mere response to Russia’s aggressive stance.
In particular, high-ranking officials in Finland have in the past few days reaffirmed that Helsinki has the right to apply for NATO membership regardless of what Moscow thinks about it. Sweden’s more conservative parties have also moved closer to NATO in recent years, and elections this spring could give new meaning to the issue.
After a policy change by a right-wing extremist party, the Swedish parliament officially approved a motion for the “NATO option” last month with 204-145 votes. The option allows the Reichstag to consider applying for membership at some point in the future. The move ignored strong opposition from the minority government, led by center-left parties.
The motion does not force the government to act, but “we can now expect a wider political debate about possible Swedish membership,” said Calle Hakansson, an analyst with the Swedish Institute for International Affairs, according to a report on Politico public television Europe.
Finland and Sweden already have positive diplomatic relations with the alliance, but both have long maintained their autonomy as militarily non-aligned states, partly for fear of provoking Moscow.
However, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin used their official New Year’s address to emphasize that Finland can apply for NATO membership at any time, regardless of the Kremlin’s security guarantees.
According to the online publication BrusselsMorning, Niinisto said Finland had “freedom of choice”, which includes “the possibility of military orientation and the possibility of applying for NATO membership if we should decide ourselves.”
Ms. Marin said Finland “learned from the past”, an obvious reference to Helsinki’s troubled history with Moscow, which dates back to Finland’s annexation of West Karelia by the Soviet Union during the Russo-Finnish War of 1939-1940.
Uneasiness about this story has rekindled among Finnish nationalists since Russia’s similarly violent annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. Sweden’s pro-NATO voices say the country’s long-cherished policy of neutrality has it in the face of Russia’s resurgence in foreign policy aggression in the Putin era. The aggression included provocations aimed directly at Stockholm.
“For Sweden, one of the first wake-up calls from a resurgent Russia was the simulated nuclear attack by Russian bombers on Sweden on the night of Easter Friday in 2013,” said the then Swedish Air Force Major Carl in a comment. from 2016. Bergqvist.
The comment, published in the online magazine War on the Rocks, noted that the Russian stance had led Sweden and Finland to “sign host nation support agreements with NATO to begin the process of admitting NATO forces to accelerate if necessary “.
In August, Swedish troops were hastily dispatched to the Baltic island of Gotland after Russian warships were sighted in the area.
Mixed public opinion is a factor in both countries. Surveys show that Swedes are equally divided on joining NATO, but polls have found a significant shift from the 1990s when a strong majority opposed membership. A recent Finnish poll found that a majority – 40% – still oppose NATO membership, while 26% are in favor, but pro-NATO sentiment is on the rise.
Even before the Finnish President and Prime Minister’s New Years speeches, Russia expressed its frustration that Finland or Sweden might try to join NATO.
“It is very clear that Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO would have serious military and political consequences that would require an appropriate response from Russia,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Sakharova said on December 29, according to EU Today.
The back and forth comes amid growing US and NATO concerns that Russia is on the verge of invading Ukraine. Russia is building its military force along the Ukrainian border.
The rearmament, which has led US-backed Ukrainian forces to interfere on their side of the border, has been a foreign policy headache for the Biden administration.
Moscow has even tested hypersonic missiles to underline its demand from the West to provide guarantees that NATO will not advance further into countries around Russia.
President Biden responded to the demand by warning Putin in a phone call last week that the US could dramatically increase sanctions against Moscow if Russian forces take further military action against Ukraine. Mr Putin said such a move by the US could lead to a complete break in ties between nations.
Mr. Biden then spent the weekend preventing a war in Europe. Just a few days after the tough, almost an hour-long conversation with Putin, he arranged an encouraging meeting with the Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Zelenskyi.
Although some in Washington say Biden is not steadfast enough with Moscow, a key Democrat warned Putin on Sunday that his harsh talk could provoke exactly what he fears: more countries near Russia’s borders joining theirs join NATO’s own protection.
Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat and chairman of the House of Representatives’ Standing Committee on Intelligence, said a Russian military operation against Ukraine would trigger a rethink along Russia’s western borders.
“I also think that a strong deterrent is to understand that when they do occur, it will bring this about [NATO] get closer to Russia, don’t push it further, ”said Schiff in“ Face the Nation ”by CBS.