War in Ukraine brings Sweden and Finland closer to NATO
With a “historic” change in attitude, “exceptional” arms exports and a defiant stance in the face of Russian demands, Russian aggression in Ukraine has shaken the status quo in traditionally non-aligned Finland and Sweden (troops Swedish are seen here) – Copyright UKRAINIAN HOME MINISTRY PRESS SERVICE/AFP –
Marc PREEL with offices in Stockholm and Helsinki
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine upended the status quo in traditionally non-aligned Finland and Sweden, ushering in a ‘historic’ surge in support for NATO, ‘exceptional’ arms exports and a defiance of Moscow’s demands .
Stockholm and Helsinki have so far ruled out applying to join the NATO military alliance, but the two countries have never been closer to taking the plunge, analysts say.
“Everything is possible at the moment and the signal from NATO countries is that an application for membership can be processed in a very short period of time,” said Zebulon Carlander, defense analyst at the organization Society. and Defense in Sweden.
“So I think it’s really a political decision that belongs to the capitals – Stockholm and Helsinki,” he told AFP.
The two countries are officially non-aligned, although they have been NATO partners since the mid-1990s and ended their neutrality at the end of the Cold War.
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Tuesday that the mindset of citizens and politicians towards joining the alliance “is changing” following Russia’s assault on Ukraine. .
The NATO debate is ‘in full swing and will certainly intensify’, Marin said, after party leaders gathered to consider how to respond to a public petition calling for a membership referendum to NATO.
But Marin cautioned against jumping to conclusions at this point.
The petition garnered the 50,000 signatures needed to send the case back to parliament in less than a week, and will be seen as part of a wider debate on the Ukraine crisis.
For the first time, a majority (53%) of Finns are in favor of joining NATO, according to a poll published Monday by the public channel Yle.
This is almost double the number from a month ago, when the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper put support at just 28%.
“(It’s) a completely historic and exceptional result,” Charly Salonius-Pasternak of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs told AFP.
Support for NATO membership is also historically high in Sweden – at 41% according to a poll by public broadcaster SVT last Friday.
– Russian warnings –
In another radical change, the two countries broke with tradition by exporting arms to a country in active conflict.
Sweden is sending 5,000 anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, along with helmets and body armor, while Finland is sending 2,500 assault rifles, ammunition and 1,500 single-use anti-tank weapons.
For Sweden, this is unprecedented since the Winter War of 1939, when it sent aid to Finland to counter an invasion by none other than the Soviet Union.
“This is probably just the start of reassessments of Swedish defense security policy,” Carlander said.
Both countries are also seeing an increase in applications to their army reserves.
Experts expect the two countries to act together on whether to join NATO.
If they did, it would further escalate tensions between Russia and the West, since the alliance’s eastward expansion is the Kremlin’s main security grievance.
Last Friday, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned that if the Nordic countries joined NATO, it would have “serious military and political repercussions”.
Helsinki ignored this as a warning he had heard before.