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The neutrality of Sweden and Finland evaporates in the face of Russian expansionism

Latest NewsThe neutrality of Sweden and Finland evaporates in the face of Russian expansionism

Russia’s monstrous offensive into Ukraine has not only failed in its main objectives on the ground – control of the entire Donbas region and overthrow of the legitimate government in Kyiv – it has also brought NATO ever closer to integration into its bloc with Sweden and Finland. . The accession of two Scandinavian countries that have remained neutral for decades, and in the case of Sweden, centuries, would mean one of the greatest transformations in the recent history of the Alliance and a huge blow to the interests of the Kremlin. Unlike many other states, Sweden and Finland have always kept the doors of the transatlantic organization wide open. However, both public opinion and the majority of political formations in both countries were clearly against joining NATO. “24 February [el día del inicio de la guerra en Ucrania] It radically changed everything,” explains Eoin Michael McNamara, a researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

At the end of last year, only one in five Finns and one in four Swedes were in favor of joining NATO; a few months later, the citizens of the two countries unreservedly support joining the Alliance. Recent polls show that only about 10% of the Finnish population refuse entry, and that more than 60% of those surveyed in Sweden claim to join a military organization. “Obviously, the more than 1,300 kilometers of border with Russia was a key factor that led to even more radical changes in Finland,” says Swedish political scientist Gunilla Herolf.

The reasons why the two Scandinavian countries have so far chosen not to join NATO are varied and there are notable differences between them. Sweden voluntarily stopped taking sides in foreign conflicts in the early 19th century; However, Finland had to accept a kind of neutrality imposed by the Soviet Union at the dawn of the Cold War, which determined its foreign policy for more than four decades.

Unlike Finland, which has been the scene of three wars since independence from Russia in 1917 (one fratricidal and two against the Soviet Union), Sweden has not been involved in any armed confrontation for more than 200 years, although it has participated in some peacekeeping missions supported by UN. “Sweden, since the beginning of the 20th century, has had all the luck that Finland lacked. And it wasn’t his neutrality that kept him out of World War II, but the many concessions he made to Nazi Germany,” says Herolf, a researcher at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, profound changes have taken place in both countries. Both entered the European Union in 1995. Both Stockholm and Helsinki have repeatedly stated that since then they have ceased to be strictly neutral, and even more so since the entry into force in 2009 of the Lisbon Treaty, which introduced the mutual defense clause (Article 42.7). Finland and Sweden have insisted over the past decade that they are “militarily non-aligned countries”. Nevertheless, Austria, which joined the EU together with the two Scandinavian countries, continues to demonstrate its neutrality to this day.

At the beginning of this century, pacifist Sweden decided to gradually reduce its defense investments and its military capabilities. The situation was different in Finland, where the fear of possible aggression from an imposing neighbor never completely disappeared. After Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014, Stockholm reversed course: it reinstated compulsory military service, reinstated several regiments disbanded in previous years, and strengthened its naval and air capabilities.

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The expansionist spirit that the Kremlin demonstrated in 2014 in Ukraine and in 2008 in Georgia forced Stockholm and Helsinki to adopt a new security strategy; their representatives began to participate in NATO meetings, military exercises became more frequent, in which Finnish and Swedish soldiers rehearsed together with the military personnel of the allied armies. However, joining the organization, founded in 1949, remained unlikely for both countries, but for different reasons. “Finland blindly trusted its military capabilities. The population was convinced that they did not need to be part of an alliance to be able to dissuade Russia from possible aggression,” says McNamara. However, in Sweden, “the connection between peace and non-alignment was deeply rooted,” Herolf stresses.

Finnish soldiers participated in NATO exercises at the end of March in Setermoen (Norway).JONATHAN NACKSTRAND (AFP)

The war in Ukraine put an end to the sense of security that prevailed in Finland and Sweden. “The Finns quickly realized that faced with such an unpredictable Russia, their position was much more vulnerable than they thought,” McNamara interprets. “The population understood that they needed firm guarantees, and that they could only be under the protection of NATO and its article on collective defense. [artículo 5 del Tratado del Atlántico Norte]”, – adds the expert. The reaction in the Finnish political class was also dizzying; All the parliamentary forces that had rejected integration into the North Atlantic Alliance for decades changed their position, giving the green light to join. Prime Minister, Social Democrat Sanna Marin and President Sauli Niinistö, member of the Green League, issued a joint statement last Thursday calling for joining the military organization “as soon as possible.” Niinistö briefed Russian President Vladimir Putin on the government’s position this Saturday. After the conversation, the Kremlin issued a statement saying that ” ending the traditional policy of military neutrality would be a mistake, since there is no threat to Finland’s security.”

“When it became clear to the Swedes that Finland was going to join NATO no matter what decision they made, support for Alliance membership increased exponentially,” Herolf stresses. “Cooperation between Sweden and Finland in the military field in recent years has been total,” explains Michael Claesson, head of the operations department of the Swedish armed forces, over the phone. “If only one of the two joined NATO, the other would clearly be in a weakened position, sitting on the sidelines,” the lieutenant general continues.

On Friday, the day after Finnish leaders publicly declared their support for joining the Alliance, a report agreed upon by six of the eight major political parties was presented in the Swedish parliament, which examines the new security situation that has emerged after Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. . The text emphasizes that Sweden’s accession to NATO will reduce the risk of the conflict spreading to Northern Europe.

This Sunday the Swedish Social Democratic Party will announce its final decision to join the Alliance; most of the Scandinavian country’s media indicate that it will support accession. The formation that ruled Sweden for most of the last century has so far taken a position radically opposed to joining the military bloc. With the approval of the Social Democrats, only environmentalists and former communists, who account for just over 10% of the seats, will continue to oppose entry.

According to the organization’s sources, the process of ratifying Sweden’s and Finland’s accession to the Atlantic Alliance will take six to 12 months. Domestic reforms, such as those undertaken by some of the latest acceding members, will not be needed: there is no doubt about the strength of the democratic institutions in both countries. Accession must be ratified by the parliaments of the 30 current NATO members. “The accession of Sweden and Finland would greatly strengthen the capabilities of the Allies both in the Baltic Sea and in the Arctic,” says Lieutenant General Claesson. And this would be a serious blow to Moscow, which, before launching an invasion of Ukraine, demanded guarantees from the North Atlantic Alliance that it would not continue its expansion to the east.

Turkey to settle disagreements with Finland and Sweden on possible accession


On Friday, Turkey expressed doubts about the possible entry of the two Scandinavian countries into NATO, which it accuses of supporting armed organizations such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). “I am confident that we will find a solution,” Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavesto assured this Saturday after arriving for an informal meeting with his NATO counterparts in Berlin. Both Finland and Sweden were invited to the meeting called by German Foreign Minister Annalena Burbock.

Both Haavesto and Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde confirmed they would meet with Ankara’s representative Mevlut Cavusoglu to resolve “misunderstandings” on the sidelines of the meeting. “The majority of the Turkish people are against the accession of these two countries and are asking us to block it,” the Turkish minister said upon arrival at the meeting. “These are issues that we obviously need to resolve with our NATO allies and with these countries,” Cavusoglu continued.

Although the meeting was convened to discuss the conflict in Ukraine, only Turkey’s position was discussed this Saturday. “We don’t know what Turkey means, but from a Norwegian point of view, we are 100% for Finland and Sweden if they decide to apply,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeld said in a statement. His Canadian counterpart Melanie Jolie spoke about this at the G-7 meeting just a few hours earlier in northern Germany: “It’s important that we come to a consensus. We not only want your income to happen, but also for it to be fast; This is necessary under the current conditions.”

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