Finland and Sweden seem to be moving closer to joining NATO, a move that leaders and experts see as the best way to confront Russia as it escalates its rhetoric on nuclear weapons.
The conflict in Ukraine has forced the two Nordic nations to reconsider their absence from the alliance created after World War II, which obliges members to defend each other if attacked.
“Mr Putin shows that NATO is relevant and necessary,” said Sean Monaghan, a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “If NATO did not exist, you would have to invent it. . ”
“Finland in particular, but also Sweden, is very stoic in these matters and sees Russia with clear eyes. And that’s why I think they will eventually join NATO, because they have seen that Russia’s revisionist threat has been built up. And now the invasion of Ukraine is over, and there is virtually no going back, and the best way for them to defend themselves against the threat from Russia is to join NATO. ”
As politicians and poll results in the two countries have turned their backs on the prospect – and favor joining NATO after decades of failure – Moscow has renewed its threat to use nuclear weapons.
Dmitry Medvedev, Vice-President of the Russian Security Council and former President of Russia, wrote in a Telegram post on Thursday that “there can be no question of non-nuclear status for the Baltic Sea” if Finland and Sweden join NATO, adding that ” that balance must be restored. ”
He said that if Finland and Sweden were to become part of the alliance, Moscow would have to “seriously strengthen the grouping of land forces and air defenses, deploy significant naval forces in the waters of the Gulf of Finland.”
It is a particularly worrying threat to Finland, which shares an 800-mile border with Russia.
The Finnish Minister for European Affairs, Tytti Tuppurainen, said on Friday that it was “very likely” that her country would join NATO, calling Russia’s “brutal” war in Ukraine a “wake-up call for all of us.”
That zeal could also put more pressure on Sweden, which would remain the only Nordic country outside the alliance, and which would break its long-standing practice of neutrality by joining.
“The fact that these countries were not about to join NATO three months ago, and now they are, is definitely a response to Russian aggression. Russia should realize that its aggression against Ukraine has intimidated many countries, even to the point that a country like Sweden, which has a 200-year history of freedom of alliance, is now actually looking at becoming a member of NATO, “said Kurt Volker, a former US ambassador to NATO who also served as a special envoy in Ukraine.
“Finlandization was invented as a word to describe the Soviet Union’s insistence that Finland not exercise its own security choices. Now they do it anyway. “In that sense, it’s definitely reactions to Russian aggression, and it’s probably good for Russia to realize that,” he added.
NATO expansionists hope that the two countries will formally signal their intention before the NATO June meeting in Madrid, where members could sign an accession protocol, which must also be approved individually by each country’s legislative body.
Experts say they are likely to be welcomed into the alliance.
“They have advanced, modern military and are seen as security providers versus security consumers,” Monaghan said.
But in addition to the practical defensive implications, the move would also send a significant message.
“This is taking place in the context of what President Biden has called the competition between autocracies and democracies. So a membership would certainly project an image of Western solidarity, transatlantic solidarity, and I think it would be an injection of democratic values into NATO, so it would also be visible to Russia, says Gene Germanovich, an international defense researcher at Rand Corporation.
Once newcomers are invited by NATO members, each of the 30 member states will have to go through their own process of approving the treaty, a task that may take years but which experts hope with the right motivation can take as little as a few months .
Volker said he hoped Sweden would complete its own internal decision-making ahead of the June summit.
“NATO Summit Leaders… want to be able to make this decision once and then they want to close any gray area between becoming a member of NATO but not yet a member of NATO and ultimately becoming a member of NATO – they wants to close that gap as soon as possible, ”he said.
But there are a few potential problems.
Leo Michel, a former director of NATO policy at the Ministry of Defense, said Hungary is the international player most likely to slow down ratification, while any contradictory words from former President Trump, a frequent NATO critic, could make it difficult to achieve Consensus in the United States Senate, with two-thirds voting in favor.
“Given Viktor Orban’s proximity in Hungary to Putin, I could at least imagine that Hungary could be slow to ratify,” said Michel, now a member of the Atlantic Council.
“Given the way Trump treated NATO … I’m a little nervous that they will get all the necessary Republican votes. Maybe in the end they will … [but] I actually do not think it will be easy, ”he said.
“If he finds this something else to attack the administration on, there may be some people who listen to it and do not want to go across with him,” he added.
It is not clear how Russia can respond to a NATO enlargement, although experts consider action on the ground unlikely.
“Looking at Russia’s current predicament, from a conventional perspective they are very occupied in Ukraine, so it would be difficult to divert significant forces to the north,” Germanovich said.
But Russia will try to punish alliance members through other means such as disinformation campaigns and cyber attacks as well as potentially acting on its nuclear threats.
“Given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks they have faced so far militarily, none of us can take lightly the threat of a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-performing nuclear weapons,” the CIA said. Director William Burns in a speech Thursday.
“Although we have seen some rhetorical views on the part of the Kremlin about moving to higher levels of nuclear preparedness, so far we have not seen a lot of practical evidence for the kind of deployments or military dispositions that would reinforce this concern,” Burns said. “But we keep a close eye on it, it’s one of our most important responsibilities at the CIA.”
Becoming a member of NATO would show that Finland and Sweden take Russia seriously, even if they oppose any pressure from Putin.
“Mr Putin will probably be unhappy that Finland and Sweden are joining NATO. One of the alleged reasons for joining Ukraine was to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO, so if Finland and Sweden join, he will only to have himself to blame, “Monaghan said.
“And there will be, so to speak, some form of poetic justice if NATO could prove the open-door policy that Putin wanted to slam into,” he added.