Finland and Sweden could soon join NATO


(CNN) — Finland and Sweden could soon join NATO, moves that would likely anger Moscow and that officials said would further underscore Russia’s strategic mistake in invading Ukraine.

NATO officials told CNN that discussions about bringing Sweden and Finland into the bloc have become extremely serious since Russia’s invasion, and senior US State Department officials said the matter came up at the ministerial meeting. this week’s NATO Foreign Affairs Conference, attended by the Foreign Ministers of Stockholm and Helsinki.

The officials said the discussions underscore the extent to which Vladimir Putin’s invasion has only served to reinvigorate and unify the NATO alliance, the exact opposite of Putin’s stated goals before the war began. Russia’s president had demanded that NATO stop expanding eastward and admit new members, accusing the bloc of threatening Russian security. Instead, NATO has increased its support for Ukraine and is preparing to welcome new members.

Significant changes in public opinion

Public opinion in both countries about joining the defensive alliance has changed significantly as Russia’s war in Ukraine continues, with a former Finnish prime minister telling CNN that the decision to join “was practically a done deal on February 24.” , when Russia invaded”.

“If you look at public opinion in Finland and Sweden, and how their views have changed drastically in the last six weeks, I think it’s another example of how this has been a strategic failure,” a senior Department of Defense official said this week. US state

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin follows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech via video link at the Finnish Parliament in Helsinki, Finland, on April 8, 2022. (Photo by VESA MOILANEN/Lehtikuva/AFP via from Getty Images)

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Friday that her country’s parliament will discuss possible NATO membership “in the coming weeks”, adding that she hopes these discussions will be concluded “before the summer solstice”.

“I think we will have very careful discussions, but we are also not taking more time than necessary in this process, because the situation is, of course, very serious,” he said.

Sweden’s Prime Minister, Magdalena Andersson, did not rule out the possibility of membership in an interview with SVT late March. Sweden is running a security policy review that is 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’s ambassador to the US, Mikko Hautala, told CNN that the two nations are in close coordination with each other, but that each country would make its own decision.

“Rethink the Basics”

A Finnish official said on Friday his country would not seek to join NATO due to “desperation” to defend itself against the 30-member alliance. Rather, Moscow’s actions in Ukraine have forced Finland to “rethink fundamentals”.

“And we understand that our relations with this Russia that now exists cannot be the same as they used to be because of these Russian actions,” the official said.

Alexander Stubb, who served as Finland’s prime minister in 2014-2015, echoed this sentiment, telling CNN that there has long been a tension in the country between idealism: wanting to be able to work with Russia, with whom share border. and realism, which required Finland to maintain a strong standing army in case Russia ever invaded.

That idealism has now largely evaporated in the wake of Russia’s attack.

“The Finns believe that if Putin can massacre his sisters, brothers and cousins ​​in Ukraine, as he is doing now, then there is nothing stopping him from doing it in Finland. We just don’t want to be left alone again,” Stubb said. recalling the Soviet-Finnish Winter War, which lasted from November 1939 to March 1940.

Possibility of a Kremlin response

The impact of NATO troops in the conflict in Ukraine 1:13

The Kremlin said on Thursday that it would have to “rebalance the situation” if Sweden and Finland joined NATO.

“We will have to make our western flank more sophisticated in terms of ensuring our security,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Sky News.

Finland was hit with two cyberattacks and an airspace violation by a Russian state plane on Friday. Both Stubb and the Finnish official said Helsinki expects such attacks, downplaying the potential for a harsh response from Moscow if Finland, which shares a more than 1,200-kilometre border with Russia, joins NATO.

However, some NATO countries are considering the possibility of Russia carrying out an attack before Finland falls under the alliance’s protections, according to a European official.

“We will be very attentive to the possibility that Russia tries to do something before joining the alliance,” the official said.

And the Finnish official acknowledged that “they have to be prepared, if our country decides to apply or even if it doesn’t, the situation is not safe, stable… We have a war, we have all kinds of possibilities. “

They said there have been signs from other countries that they would offer support if there were security concerns in the interval between applying for and ratifying NATO membership.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this week that “in the interim period, I am sure we will find ways to address any concerns you may have regarding the period between potential implementation and final ratification.”

The Pentagon said Friday that there have been no requests for assistance from either country, but “if a country calls and asks for support from the United States, we will certainly take it into consideration.”

“A member without being a member”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. (Photo by FRANCOIS WALSCHAERTS/AFP via Getty Images)

Stoltenberg said that Sweden and Finland “can easily join this alliance if they decide to apply,” noting that “they have worked together for many years, we know they meet NATO standards when it comes to interoperability, democratic control over the armed forces”.

The Finnish official noted that his country is already essentially “a member without being a member.”

Privately, NATO and US officials say they would be delighted to see Finland and Sweden join the bloc.

Those countries already have extremely close relationships with NATO and would be a great asset, NATO officials told CNN, especially when it comes to intelligence sharing. While the level of intelligence sharing between Finland, Sweden and NATO has increased dramatically since the start of the war, a NATO official said, it is not at the level it would be if the countries were members of the bloc.

A European official noted that Finland and Sweden, if they joined, would be “net contributors” to NATO, given their supply of advanced fighter jets. Finland already operates Boeing F/A-18s and has ordered 64 Lockheed Martin F-35s.

Some officials even wryly commented that it would be one of the best things Putin has done to strengthen European security.

“Imagine in many months going from a NATO alliance that has 30 to 32 members,” another senior State Department official told reporters after the foreign ministerial meeting in Brussels. “How can this be anything other than a massive strategic mistake by Putin? That was a topic of conversation and multiple sessions in recent days.”

CNN’s Niamh Kennedy, Chris Liakos, James Frater, Oren Liebermann, Barbara Starr and Michael Conte contributed to this report.



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