The behaviour of Russia in Ukraine has had huge effects internationally, and where is this more true than in Russia’s northern neighbours Sweden and Finland? With Russia’s outburst of aggression in the region the two countries are reconsidering their position with regards to NATO membership and general security measures.
The annexing of the Crimean region from Ukraine was perceived as an act of aggression by many countries in the Nordic region and as a result there are worries that current security measures will not be enough to prevent any future act of hostility from Russia.
In response to Russia’s recent actions Finland has already visibly weakened contacts with Moscow but many see this as insufficient to repel the Russian threat to the region. With this in mind Sweden and Finland have become more open to the idea of joining NATO.
NATO already has Norway, Iceland and Denmark as members of its association; members with strong cultural and historical links to Sweden and Finland as well as political links through the recently formed NORDEFCO, an association designed to facilitate common interests and provide solutions to problems within the five countries. The admittance of these final two members to NATO seems almost instinctive.
However, traditionally Sweden and Finland prefer to remain neutral in such affairs; it took until 1995 for them both to join the European Union, for instance. But pressure to join from some areas has been mounting for some time as membership seems to provide the much needed security and protection against the Russians that the two countries have been searching for.
Sweden and Finland already comply with many NATO procedures and often join them in exercises. For some, their finally becoming members would just be a natural next step, whilst others believe that with existing cooperation this is an unnecessary action.
Naturally Russia has suggested that this would be a poor move for the two countries, especially when Russia considers tensions in the area to be low anyway. Vladimir Putin’s personal envoy said recently in an interview that such Russophobia could even lead to World War III – interestingly Russia perceives particularly Finland’s interest to be an act of aggression itself. Whilst this is perhaps an extreme reaction to the news, some of Russia’s other concerns do seem to be more realistic (is NATO still worth joining, for instance?)
As for whether or not the countries will actually join it seems that Finland is very serious about it’s position, whilst still suggesting that any such move would have to be passed by a referendum in the country. However, it is not a proposal that is supported by the all political parties in the two nations or even the whole of the ruling governments, so it seems there may be a need for more persuasion. Any actual entry into NATO would be a lengthy process with the first steps towards it not being expected until as early as after the next Finnish elections in 2016.
What does seem clear for now is that Swedish–Finnish relations will remain as strong as ever for the foreseeable future, with plans ahead for deeper levels of cooperation. Security in the Nordic region is likely to remain an important talking point for some considerable time, especially whilst President Putin’s next moves look decidedly uncertain.