But in one important respect, Putin’s plan appears to have failed: the war has united the West against Moscow in ways that seemed unthinkable in January.
Finland is expected to prepare a report on its security policy this week, an important step on the way for the nation to potentially apply for NATO.
That report is expected to start discussions in the Finnish parliament on whether to continue to join the alliance – discussions that Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said she hoped would end “before midsummer”.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said on Monday that it was “important” that neighboring Sweden followed a “similar process”, which he expects will take time. “But of course we exchange information all the time, and hopefully if we make similar kinds of decisions, we can make them around the same time.”
Sweden is holding an election later this year where NATO is likely to be a key campaign issue where mainstream parties will potentially not protest against joining the alliance.
Public opinion in both countries has changed significantly since the invasion, and NATO allies and officials generally support the two countries joining. The only serious objection could come from Hungary, whose leader is close to Putin, but NATO officials believe it would be able to wring Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s arm.
Given that Putin started his war by demanding that NATO roll back its borders to where they were in the 1990s, the fact that this is even being considered represents a diplomatic disaster for Moscow. And if Finland in particular were to join, Putin would find that Russia suddenly shares a further 830-mile border with NATO.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned on Monday that NATO enlargement would not bring more stability to Europe.
“We have repeatedly said that the Alliance is in itself more of a tool for confrontation. This is not an alliance that provides peace and stability, and further enlargement of the Alliance will obviously not lead to more stability on the European continent.” he said.
Rob Bauer, head of NATO’s military committee, told reporters on Tuesday that the alliance did not exclude new members, but said it was ultimately up to Finland and Sweden to decide whether to join, Reuters reported.
“It is a sovereign decision of any nation wishing to join NATO to apply for membership, which they have not done so far … We are not forcing anyone into NATO,” Bauer said.
Nor has Putin’s invasion motivated Ukraine to withdraw from its desire for closer integration with the West. Although it is unlikely that the country will join NATO, its efforts to become a member of the European Union have accelerated since the start of the war. This will take a very long time and may also meet fierce opposition from Hungary, which is already in an ugly battle with Brussels over its violations of the rule of law, leading the EU to propose suspending central funding for Budapest.
But once again, the fact that it is being talked about and the level of support among EU leaders and officials is yet another indication of how united the West has become against Russia.
It is worth noting that since the beginning of the war, the West has largely been united in its response to Russia, be it through economic sanctions or military support for Ukraine.
However, there are a few challenges on the way that will test how united this alliance against Russia really is.
First, if it turns out that Russia has used chemical weapons in Ukraine, there will be enormous pressure on the West, especially 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 to take in the case of chemical weapons, but these details are still private to prevent Russia from taking preventive protection measures.
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 that would likely respond by intensifying its attacks on Ukraine and possibly other areas of traditional Russian influence.
Second, the cost of living crisis in many European countries may soon test the unity of future Western sanctions against Russia and embargoes against Russian energy.
If the economy of Western Europe is ultimately considered more important than holding Russia accountable for waging war against its peaceful neighbor, then Putin could to some extent get away with invading an innocent country.
But so far, as this unity largely holds, it is clear that Putin’s desire to belittle the Western alliance has backfired – and that the strong man has secured pariah status for his nation, possibly in the coming years.
Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report from Washington.