NATO officials told CNN that discussions about Sweden and Finland joining the bloc have become very dangerous since the Russian invasion, and senior US State Department officials said the matter was brought up at this week’s NATO foreign ministers meeting, which was attended by the Stockholm and Helsinki foreign ministers. .
Public opinion in both countries about joining the defense alliance has shifted dramatically as Russia’s war in Ukraine continues, with a former Finnish prime minister telling CNN that the move to join “was largely a deal that ended on February 24, when Russia invaded.”
“If you look at public opinion in Finland and Sweden, and how their views have changed so dramatically over the past six weeks, I think it’s another example of how this has been a strategic failure,” a senior US State Department official said this week.
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said Friday that her country’s parliament is set to discuss possible NATO membership “in the coming weeks,” adding that she hopes these discussions will conclude “before midsummer.”
“I think we’re going to have very careful discussions, but we’re also not taking more time than we have to in this process, because the situation is, of course, very serious,” she said.
Finland’s ambassador to the United States, Mikko Ottala, told CNN that the two countries cooperate closely with each other, but that each country would make its own independent decision.
Rethink the Basics
A Finnish official said on Friday that his country would not seek to join NATO out of “despair” of defense from the 30-nation alliance. Instead, Moscow’s actions in Ukraine forced Finland to “rethink the basics.”
“And we understand that our relations with Russia that exist now, cannot be the same as they were in the past because of these Russian actions,” the official said.
Alexander Staub, who served as Finland’s prime minister in 2014-2015, echoed that sentiment, telling CNN that there had been a long tension in the country between idealism – the desire to be able to work with Russia, with which it shares borders – and realism, which is the case. which required Finland to maintain a strong standing army in the event of an invasion by Russia.
This idealism has now largely evaporated in the wake of Russia’s offensive.
“The Finns believe that if Putin can massacre his sisters, brothers and cousins in Ukraine, as he is doing now, there is nothing to prevent him from doing it in Finland. We simply do not want to be left alone again,” Stubb said, recalling the Soviet-Finnish Winter War that lasted from November 1939 to March 1940.
The possibility of the Kremlin’s response
On Thursday, the Kremlin said it would have to “rebalance the situation” if Sweden and Finland join NATO.
“We have to make our western wing more complex in terms of ensuring our security,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Sky News.
Finland was hit by two cyberattacks and an airspace violation by a Russian state-owned aircraft on Friday. Both Stubb and the Finnish official said Helsinki expected these kinds of attacks, and played down the likelihood of a severe response from Moscow if Finland — which shares a border of more than 800 miles with Russia — joins NATO.
However, some NATO countries are considering the possibility of an attack by Russia before Finland falls under the protection of the alliance, according to a European official.
“We will live very hard on the possibility that Russia will try to do something before it joins the alliance,” the official said.
The Finnish official acknowledged that “they should be prepared, if our country decides to apply or even if they don’t, the situation is not safe and stable … We have war, we have all kinds of possibilities.”
They said there were indications from other countries that they would provide support if there were security concerns in the period between the application and approval of NATO membership.
“In the transitional period, I am sure we will find ways to address the concerns they may have regarding the period between potential implementation and final ratification,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said this week.
The Pentagon said on Friday that there had been no requests for assistance from either country, but “if a country calls and asks for US support, we will definitely take that into account.”
“Member without being a member”
Stoltenberg said Sweden and Finland “could easily join this alliance if they decided to advance,” noting that they “have worked together for many years, and we know they meet NATO standards when it comes to interoperability and democratic control of the armed forces.”
The Finnish official noted that their country is already “a member without being a member”.
In private, NATO and US officials say they would be happy to see Finland and Sweden join the bloc.
NATO officials told CNN that these countries already have very close ties with NATO and would be a huge asset, especially when it comes to intelligence sharing. One NATO official said that while the level of intelligence sharing between Finland, Sweden and NATO has increased significantly since the start of the war, it has not been at the level it would have been if the countries were members of the bloc.
A European official noted that Finland and Sweden, if joined, would be “net contributors” to NATO, given their supplies of advanced combat aircraft. Finland already operates Boeing F/A-18s and has ordered 64 Lockheed Martin F-35s.
Some officials even commented sarcastically that it would be one of the best things Putin had done to strengthen European security.
“Just imagine in a few months the transition from a 30-member NATO alliance to 32,” another senior State Department official told reporters after a foreign ministerial meeting in Brussels. “How can this be anything other than Putin’s fatal strategic mistake? This has been the subject of multiple discussions and sessions over the past two days.”
CNN’s Niamh Kennedy, Chris Liakos, James Frater, Oren Lieberman, Barbara Starr, and Michael Conti contributed to this report.
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