Putin’s bullying backfires as Finland and Sweden edge closer to joining NATO

But in one important respect, Putin’s plan appears to have failed: The war has united the West against Moscow in ways that seemed unimaginable in January.

Finland is expected to produce a report on the country’s security policy this week, a key step on the road to the nation potentially applying for NATO.

That report is expected to start discussions in Finland’s parliament about whether to pursue membership in the alliance — discussions which Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said she hoped would wrap up “before mid-summer.”

Finland’s foreign minister Pekka Haavisto said Monday that it was “important” that neighboring Sweden was following a “similar process” which he expects to take time. “But of course we exchange information all the time and, hopefully, if we make similar kinds of decisions, we could do them around the same time.”

Sweden holds an election later this year, in which NATO is likely to be a key campaigning issue, with mainstream parties potentially not objecting to joining the alliance.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson did not rule out the possibility of membership in an interview with SVT at the end of March. Sweden is undertaking an analysis of security policy that’s due to be completed by the end of May, and the government is expected to announce its position following that report, a Swedish official told CNN. They said their nation could make its position public sooner, depending on when neighboring Finland does.
Finland and Sweden could soon join NATO, prompted by Russian war in Ukraine

Public opinion in both countries has shifted significantly since the invasion, and NATO allies and officials are on the whole supportive of the two countries joining. The only serious objection could come from Hungary, whose leader is close with Putin, but NATO officials think it would be able to twist Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s arm.

Given that Putin started his war demanding that NATO roll its borders back to where they were in the 1990s, the fact this is even being considered represents a diplomatic disaster for Moscow. And if Finland in particular were to join, Putin would find Russia suddenly sharing an additional 830-mile border with NATO.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned on Monday that expanding NATO wouldn’t bring any more stability to Europe.

“We have repeatedly said that the alliance itself is more of a tool for confrontation. This is not an alliance that provides peace and stability, and further expansion of the alliance, of course, will not lead to more stability on the European continent,” he said.

Rob Bauer, the head of NATO’s military committee, told reporters on Tuesday that the alliance has not ruled out new members, but said it was ultimately up to Finland and Sweden to decide whether they want to join, Reuters reported.

“It is a sovereign decision of any nation that wants to join NATO to apply for membership, which they so far have not done … We are forcing no one into NATO,” Bauer said.

Nor has Putin’s invasion motivated Ukraine to pull back from its desire for closer integration with the West. While the country is unlikely to join NATO, its efforts to join the European Union have accelerated since the start of the war. This would take a very long time and could also face stiff opposition from Hungary, which is already in a nasty battle with Brussels over its violations of the rule of law, causing the EU to propose suspending central funding to Budapest.

However, once again, the fact it’s being talked about and the level of support among EU leaders and officials is another indication of just how united the West has become against Russia.

Nordic countries wonder if they are next on Putin's list

It’s worth noting that since the start of the war, the West has remained largely united in its response to Russia, be it through economic sanctions or military support for Ukraine.

However, there are a few challenges coming up that will test how united this alliance against Russia really is.

First, if it emerges that Russia has used chemical weapons in Ukraine, there will be enormous pressure for the West, particularly NATO, to take an even more active role in the war — something the alliance has been reluctant to do so far.

NATO members have already discussed red lines and what action should be taken in the event of chemical weapons, but those details are still private to prevent Russia from taking pre-emptive protective action.

However, any NATO intervention would almost certainly lead to a less stable security situation in Europe, as the West would risk a military confrontation with Russia — a nuclear power, which would likely respond by intensifying its attacks on Ukraine and possibly in other areas of traditional Russian influence.

Second, the cost of living crisis in many European countries could soon test the unity of future Western sanctions on Russia and embargoes on Russian energy.

If, ultimately, the economy of Western Europe is deemed more important than holding Russia to account for waging war on its peaceful neighbor, then Putin could to some extent get away with invading an innocent country.

But for now, as that unity largely holds, it is clear that Putin’s desire to belittle the Western alliance has backfired — and that the strongman has secured pariah status for his nation, possibly for years to come.

Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report from Washington.

2022-04-12 18:46:00