Under the Kremlin’s warped through-the-looking-glass narrative, Russia’s “peacekeeping” forces — driving Z-emblazoned tanks and committing atrocities against civilians — are “liberating” the Ukrainian people from “Nazis”. Just as back-to-front is its premise that Nato threatens Russia.
The prospect of Ukraine joining the defensive military alliance was another flimsy pretext Vladimir Putin gave for invasion. That cold-blooded and unprovoked attack on a European country has pushed both Finland and Sweden ever closer to joining Nato, precisely because it is Russia that presents the existential threat to its neighbors, not the other way around.
Accession by the two Nordic countries into Nato, unthinkable four months ago, would be the biggest overhaul of Europe’s security apparatus in decades.
It would be a welcome step, not just for the countries themselves that could benefit from the alliance’s mutual security pact, but also for Nato’s strategic future and its ability to defend the Baltic region against an irredentist Russia.
Finland, which shares a 1,340km border and considerable ties with Russia, is almost certain to apply to join Nato before its next summit in June. Finnish lawmakers are already debating the matter.
While progress is less certain for Sweden, polls suggest a majority of Swedes are in favor. A leading daily seen as the house newspaper for the ruling Social Democrats — who see themselves as guardians of the country’s 200-year neutrality — has now advocated membership. The party will decide its official position next month. Finland’s application would be a further incentive to join.
In truth, full membership would be more evolution than revolution. The pair are already Nato partners that receive security briefings and take part in joint exercises.
They also allow Nato access to their territories in emergencies. But membership would confer protection under Article 5 of the alliance’s treaty, which stipulates that an attack on one member is an attack on all.
The painstaking and democratic process through which the two countries are deliberating their future underlines the point that this is an active, sovereign choice; it is emphatically not a process by which Nato is seeking to coerce countries into its embrace as a means of encircling Russia, as the Putin Versteher would have it. Accession by Finland and Sweden could prompt a rethink by other countries that are members of the EU but not Nato.
Nato will certainly be bolstered by Finland and Sweden’s inclusion. As well as galvanizing its eastern flank with Finland’s well-regarded armed forces, the Swedish island of Gotland is seen as a strategic bulwark.
The alliance must now consider how it can protect its potential new members in the period between any application and accession, which in normal times can take anything between four months and a year for all Nato members to agree.
One well-voiced concern is that, regardless of reality, any Nato enlargement will be seen as a provocation by Russia. The former president Dmitry Medvedev recently threatened a nuclear presence in the Baltics if Sweden and Finland move ahead.
It is certainly a credible threat that must be taken seriously. But it is not new. Russia’s exclave of Kaliningrad is thought to have housed Iskander missiles, capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads, since at least 2018.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has served as a turning point in many ways. Putin is finding that there are consequences for unprovoked aggression, intended and unintended. His distorted casus belli means that the very thing he fears — an enlarged and focused Nato — is the very thing he begets. Source: Financial Times