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. .
Officials said the discussions underscore the extent to which Vladimir Putin’s invasion has only revitalized and unified the NATO alliance — the opposite of Putin’s stated goals before the war began. The Russian president had called on NATO to stop expanding eastward and accept new members, Accusing the bloc of threatening Russian security. Instead, NATO has increased its support for Ukraine and is preparing to receive new members.
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 the process, because the situation is, of course, very serious,” she said.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has not ruled out the possibility of membership in Sweden Interview with SVT At the end of March. A Swedish official told CNN that Sweden is conducting a security policy analysis that is due to be completed by the end of May, and the government is expected to announce its position after this report. They said their nation could announce its position sooner, depending on what time neighboring Finland does.
Finland’s ambassador to the United States, Mikko Ottala, told CNN that the two countries coordinate closely with each other, but that each country will make its own independent decision.
A Finnish official said Friday that his country will not seek to join NATO out of “desperation” to defend the 30-nation alliance. Instead, Moscow’s actions in Ukraine forced Finland to “rethink the basics.”
“We understand that our relations with Russia that exist now, cannot be the same as they were before due to these Russian actions,” the official said.
Alexander Staab, 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 does now, then nothing can stop him from doing so in Finland. We simply don’t want to be left alone again, said Staub, referring to the Soviet-Finnish Winter War, which lasted from November 1939 to March 1940.
On Thursday, the Kremlin said it would have to “rebalance the situation” if Sweden and Finland join NATO.
“We have to make our western flank more complex in terms of ensuring our security,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Sky News.
Finland was hit by two cyber attacks 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 with the possibility that Russia will try to do something before it joins the coalition,” 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.”
Stoltenberg said Sweden and Finland “can easily join this alliance if they decide to apply,” 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 said 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 they joined, would be “net contributors” to NATO, given their supply 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, however many months it may be, the transition from NATO of 30 to 32 members,” another senior State Department official told reporters after the foreign minister’s meeting in Brussels. How can this be anything but a fatal strategic mistake for Putin? This has been a topic of conversation and multiple sessions over the past two days.”
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