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NATO

Sweden and Finland to announce decision to join Nato within days

Finland and Sweden are expected to announce this week and next week that they intend to apply to join Nato, in what would be a stunning reversal of decades-long non-alignment policies.

Sweden and Finland to announce decision to join Nato within days
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (centre), Sweden's foreign minister Ann Linde (right), and Finland's foreign minister Pekka Haavistö at a meeting in Brussels in January. Photo: John Thys/AFP

The Nordic nations have been rattled by Moscow’s war against its pro-Western neighbour, which has bolstered domestic support for joining the military alliance — and the security that membership would provide.

“It is 100 percent certain that Finland will apply, and quite likely that it will be a member by the end of the year”, researcher Charly
Salonius-Pasternak of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs told AFP, with a majority in parliament backing membership.

Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine has also led to a swift turnaround in Finnish and Swedish public opinion in favour of Nato membership, which until recently had little backing.

READ ALSO: The likely timetable for how Sweden could join Nato

A poll published Monday by Finnish public broadcaster Yle showed that a record 76 percent of Finns now support joining the alliance, up from the steady 20 to 30 percent registered in recent years.

Public opinion has also surged in Sweden, albeit to lower levels, with around half of Swedes now in favour.

After weeks of intense political meetings at home and abroad, all signs now point to the two countries announcing a joint bid before the end of the week.

Sweden’s ruling Social Democratic Party said Monday it would announce its position on the Nato issue on May 15th. A favourable stance would provide a clear parliamentary majority for an application.

Elisabeth Braw, an expert on Nordic countries’ defence at the American Enterprise Institute, told AFP that even though Stockholm appears more hesitant than Helsinki, she believes the two countries “will do the application at the same time”.

Traditionally accustomed to lengthy consensus-building debates on major issues, Sweden has been caught off-guard by Finland’s swift turnaround.

“The Social Democrats in Sweden have always said: ‘We’ll think about this when Finland joins’… because they thought Finland would never join”, Braw said.

‘Perfect timing’

Any Nato enlargement is bound to spark anger from Moscow, which has historically pushed back at any eastward expansion of the alliance and has strongly condemned any notions of Ukraine joining.

But Moscow’s mounting warnings about the “political and military” consequences appear only to have strengthened Finland’s and Sweden’s resolve. If Finland and Sweden do opt to join Nato, it will be in direct response to Moscow’s military aggression in Ukraine.

And the alliance would move in right next door. Finnish membership would double Nato land border with Russia to around 2,600 kilometres (1,615 miles). And if they do join, the timing could be advantageous for Sweden and
Finland.

“From a risk perspective, the timing is perfect”, Braw said. “Russia is so busy elsewhere, it would be very hard for Russia to respond militarily.”

In Finland, President Sauli Niinisto is expected to announce his “personal” opinion on the Nato question on Thursday, while Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s Social Democratic Party is due to announce its decision by Saturday at the latest.

According to Finnish daily Iltalehti, a committee made up of the president, prime minister and four other cabinet ministers is to meet Sunday to make the country’s final decision.

Asked by AFP, the Finnish government refused to comment on the report, saying the committee’s meeting dates were confidential information.

Exercises

On Sweden’s strategically-located Baltic Sea island of Gotland, Home Guard troops were last week called in for a special month-long training exercise, coinciding with annual military exercises taking place across Finland and Sweden next week.

With a professional army of 12,000, another 21,000 conscripts per year and a wartime force of 280,000 troops — in addition to powerful artillery and around 60 fighter jets — Finland’s military might is impressive for a country of just 5.5 million people.

And while the post-Cold War period was marked by deep cuts in defence spending, Sweden also has a modern army that already meets Nato standards, as well as a cutting-edge arms industry.

During the Cold War, Finland remained neutral in exchange for guarantees from Moscow that it would not invade. Sweden meanwhile has long maintained a policy of neutrality during conflicts, dating back to the Napoleonic wars.

And while the two countries have until now chosen to remain outside Nato, they have gradually inched closer to the alliance over the years, taking part in its Partnership for Peace Program and Nato-led peacekeeping missions.

“It is a huge shift in public opinion and in the political decision. But militarily it wouldn’t be, simply because they are already closely linked to Nato,” Shaw said. “They will marry Nato after having cohabited with Nato”.

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SWEDEN AND RUSSIA

Sweden joining Nato ‘no problem for Russia’

Russia has "no problem" if Finland and Sweden join Nato, President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday.

Sweden joining Nato 'no problem for Russia'

“We don’t have problems with Sweden and Finland like we do with Ukraine,” Putin told a news conference in the Turkmenistan capital of Ashgabat.

“We don’t have territorial differences. There is nothing that could bother us about Sweden and Finland joining Nato. If Finland and Sweden wish to, they can join. That’s up to them. They can join whatever they want.”

However, “if military contingents and military infrastructure were deployed there, we would be obliged to respond symmetrically and raise the same threats for those territories where threats have arisen for us,” Putin said.

READ ALSO:

Sweden and Finland have both decided to apply to join Nato after Russia launched its military operation in pro-Western Ukraine on February 24. The formal process for membership was launched at the Nato summit in Madrid on Wednesday.

Until now, Russia had always been critical of the prospect of the two Nordic countries joining the alliance, saying it would be a “destabilising factor” for international security. Putin nevertheless condemned Nato’s “imperial ambitions”, accusing the alliance of seeking to assert its “supremacy” through the Ukraine conflict.

“Ukraine and the well-being of Ukrainian people is not the aim of the collective West and Nato but a means to defend their own interests,” Putin said. “The Nato countries’ leaders wish to… assert their supremacy, their imperial ambitions.” 

The Atlantic alliance and “above all the United States have long needed an external enemy around which they can unite their allies,” the Russian leader said. “Iran wasn’t good for that. We’ve given them this opportunity… to gather the whole world around them.”

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