Putin’s Invasion Backfires and Causes Largest NATO Expansion in Decades!
One of Vladimir Putin’s stated objectives for his invasion of Ukraine was his fear of NATO expansion and NATO forces being closer to Russia’s borders, should the former Soviet nation be allowed to join the Western alliance.
That plan seems to have exploded in his face and sunk just like his naval flagship since Finland just announced that it will join NATO and Sweden is likely to follow.
Finnish leaders announced on Thursday, May 12, that they believe that Finland should join the world’s biggest military organization because of Russia’s war in Ukraine. It is likely that neighboring Sweden could soon follow suit.
Should the two Nordic countries apply for membership, the move would have far-reaching ramifications for Northern Europe and trans-Atlantic security. If both nations join – as seems likely in the wake of Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine – it would be the quickest NATO enlargement ever and one that would redraw Europe’s security map.
No doubt, such a move will also anger their large neighbor Russia, which blames, at least in part, its war in Ukraine on NATO’s continued expansion closer to its borders. It’s unclear how Russian President Vladimir Putin might retaliate. The Kremlin said Thursday that the Finns and the Swedes joining NATO “certainly won’t improve European security.”
Unlike Switzerland, which is known for its legendary “neutrality,” Finland and Sweden consider themselves to be “nonaligned.”
But Russia’s war in Ukraine and Putin’s apparent desire to establish a Moscow-centered “sphere of influence” has shaken their security notions to the core. Just days after he ordered the Feb. 24 invasion, public opinion shifted dramatically.
Support in Finland for NATO membership has hovered around 20-30% for years. It now stands at over 70%. Though not officially part of the treaty, Sweden and Finland have been two of NATO’s closest partners, but maintaining good ties with Russia has also been an important part of their foreign policy, particularly for Finland.
NATO membership for the two would have them join regional neighbors Denmark, Norway, and Iceland, thus formalizing their joint security and defense work in ways that the Nordic Defense Cooperation pact among the five-member nations has not.
NORDEFCO, as it’s known, focuses on cooperation. Working within NATO means putting the forces of all of the members under joint military command.
Should they apply – which seems imminent – membership will likely be fast-tracked for approval. Finland and Sweden are NATO’s closest partners. They contribute to the alliance’s operations and air policing in the Baltics and surrounding areas.
Most importantly, they already meet NATO’s membership criteria on functioning democracies, good neighborly relations, clear borders, and armed forces that are in lock-step with the allies. After the invasion, they formally boosted information exchanges with NATO and sit in on every meeting on Ukraine war issues.
Putin has demanded that NATO stop expanding and, in his May 9 speech, blamed Western expansion of the alliance for the war.
But public opinion in Finland and Sweden suggests that he has driven them right into NATO’s arms.
If Finland joins, it will double the length of the alliance’s border with Russia, adding a further 830 miles for Moscow to defend.
Putin has promised a “military, technical” response if they join. But many troops from Russia’s western district near Finland were sent to Ukraine, and those units suffered heavy casualties, Western military officers say.
So far, Moscow is doing nothing obvious to dissuade the two — apart perhaps from a couple of incidents where Russian planes entered their airspace. The Kremlin said Thursday that its response could depend on how close NATO infrastructure moves toward Russia’s borders.