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Finland and Sweden apply for NATO membership
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BRUSSELS – Finland and Sweden submitted letters on Wednesday formally expressing their interest in joining NATO, a historic moment for two countries that clung to military non-alignment until the invasion of Ukraine by Russia disrupts their thinking on security.

The delivery of the letters to alliance headquarters in Brussels marks the start of a membership process that could take months, but should ultimately result in an expansion of NATO from 30 to 32 members, redoing the post-Cold War European security architecture along the way.

“We are leaving one era and starting another,” Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said on Monday, announcing the decision.

How Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine pushed Finland towards NATO

Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö of Finland are scheduled to appear at the White House on Thursday, where President Biden is expected to show his support.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and several NATO countries have signaled that Finland and Sweden could expect protection in the run-up to full membership ratification and that they are part of the NATO’s Collective Defense Pact, known as “Article 5”.

A big question is whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will retaliate. European officials and diplomats have said Finland and Sweden are ready for hybrid or covert attacks.

Putin had cited the threat of NATO expansion among the justifications for his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Kyiv itself is not considered to be on track to NATO membership. But Putin’s war has spawned a reinvigorated alliance that is now on the verge of doubling its land border with Russia.

The two new members would bring NATO’s full force to the far north and strengthen its presence in the Baltic Sea region. The alliance would gain two sophisticated armies with extensive experience operating near the Russian border. Sweden also holds the strategically important island of Gotland, just 200 miles from the Russian army in Kaliningrad.

Stoltenberg said on Sunday their membership would be a “turning point for security” in Europe. “Their NATO membership would strengthen our common security, demonstrate that NATO’s door is open and that aggression does not pay,” he said.

Finland and Sweden did not consider themselves neutral until now. Militarily, they have been close partners of NATO. Politically, they are members of the European Union.

But seeing themselves as militarily unaligned has been an important part of their self-conception. Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a majority of people in both countries thought it was safer to be outside NATO. But the last few months have seen a dramatic shift in public opinion.

Why Finland and Sweden were not part of NATO

“This is an extraordinary development given where we were in February,” said Anna Wieslander, director for northern Europe at the Atlantic Council.

“Russia wanted to go back in time, to return to the Cold War, to fragment and weaken the West,” she continued. “Now, in May, we are here.”

After receiving the applications, NATO will convene its decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council, to decide whether or not to proceed with the application. From there, there will be membership talks, according to a NATO official who spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with the alliance’s ground rules.

This first phase of the accession process should be rapid, in large part because the two countries are already close NATO partners. From there, it could take “months” for each member state to ratify the decision, the official said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week expressed skepticism about Sweden and Finland joining, but NATO officials and analysts believe Turkey will fall in line. “I’m confident we can find common ground and an agreement,” Stoltenberg said on Sunday.

Russian officials have warned of “consequences” at every step, but recent days have offered more muted rhetoric.

“Russia has no problem with Finland and Sweden, and in this sense, expansion at the expense of these countries does not create an immediate threat to us,” Putin said in televised remarks on Monday. “But the expansion of military infrastructure in this territory will certainly provoke our response.”

In a weekend phone call, Putin told Finnish President Sauli Niinisto that the decision to join NATO was “bad” and could have “a negative effect” on Russian-Finnish relations, but he didn’t made no specific threats, according to the records.

Russia is furious about Finland joining NATO but can’t do much about it

NATO and European officials have mostly downplayed the risk of significant Russian aggression.

The country’s military remains linked to heavy fighting in Ukraine and has lost soldiers and equipment. Russia also withdrew its troops from the border with Finland, leaving Moscow with a reduced ability to target the border militarily.

Given the broad support for NATO membership in Finland and Sweden, it will be difficult for Russia to try to influence these audiences.

“There is no need to intervene, there is no reason to change people’s minds,” said Henri Vanhanen, foreign policy expert and adviser to the center-right National Coalition Party. . “It’s the democratic resilience we have against Russia.”

“It is out of Russia’s reach at this time to try to prevent Finland and Sweden from joining NATO,” he continued. “You have to come to terms with it. »

If Putin tries anything, the allies have pledged their support. Britain, Denmark, France, Iceland and Norway are among those who have pledged military support if Finland or Sweden are attacked. Anyone who would seek to test European solidarity by threatening or attacking their sovereignty, by any means, must be certain that France will stand alongside Finland and Sweden,” the French statement read.

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