Putin thought the war in Ukraine was a missile for NATO. It may be a boomerang | NATO

It is conceivable that by the end of the year NATO’s land mass, GDP and territorial borders with Russia could expand almost as much as they would have if Ukraine had reached its distant goal of eventual membership in the Western defense alliance – if not more.

The brutal way in which Vladimir Putin has tried to lock in Ukraine’s security options has led to a sharp change in mentality in Finland and Sweden, all the more powerful because it seems to come from below, not from the political elites.

It’s not done yet. Opinion so unstable, and previously so entrenched in its opposition to NATO membership, could swing toward the comfort of semi-neutrality. Russian nuclear threats, which are already beginning, could intimidate voters and get them thinking.

The process can be cumbersome. Many marks of NATO membership exist and have yet to be fully explored by Finns and Swedes.

But by the NATO summit in Madrid in June, NATO will be on track to increase its population by 16 million, its GDP by 800 billion euros and its land mass by 780,000 km2. Ukraine, on the other hand, has a population of 41 million, a land mass of 603,000 km2 and a GDP of 155 billion euros. A new 1,300 km border with NATO could be formed, the exact opposite of what Putin set out to achieve in the treaties aimed at shrinking NATO that he ordered the West to accept. ‘last year. Worse for Moscow, NATO could have strengthened itself in the Baltic Sea, right next to the enclave of Kaliningrad, the Russian strategic naval base.

By invading Ukraine, Putin thought he was launching a missile westward. It turned out to be a precision-guided boomerang. To make two stubbornly non-aligned countries members of NATO would join the pantheon of great wartime strategic blunders.

It is all the more extraordinary that the recovery was so rapid. Finland, with its 70-year mark of semi-neutrality and emphasis on consensus building, tends to shift its foreign policy with glacial speed. Finland’s tolerance of Putin was so entrenched that some on the left claimed it had moved away from collaboration, with Finland’s political elite shunning Russian opposition.

In the government’s annual survey in December, Finland’s support for NATO membership stood at 24%.

Four months later, Finnish politics took a somersault. Support for NATO membership stood at 68%. Polls now show that more than half of the 200 parliamentarians support NATO membership. In the 2015 Finnish parliamentary elections, 91% of SDP candidates opposed NATO membership. Finnish SDP Prime Minister Sanna Marin said everything had changed. Russia is “not the neighbor we thought it was”, she said.

Alexander Stubb, Finland’s former prime minister, said Finland’s membership was based on rational fear, created on the day of the Russian invasion. He predicts that the Finnish bid will be at NATO headquarters by the end of May. “The train has left the station.

In a speech earlier this month to the largely agrarian Center party council, Annika Saarikko explained that sometimes history moves rapidly, measured in weeks rather than years: “For the foreseeable future, we cannot not rely on a mutually agreed international order or a functioning relationship with Russia for our security. She added that NATO membership comes with obligations. “Finland would not just take out fire insurance. That would be joining the fire department.

Such has been the Finnish turnaround, it has taken on the unusual role of role model with respect to greater Sweden. This requires that the two countries respect the different relations, sensitivities and political cultures. The ideal from NATO’s perspective is for the two countries to join simultaneously, and the polls show support for that. But Finnish diplomats say they cannot be seen as interfering in Swedish sovereign decisions. Marin stressed during his joint press conference in Stockholm with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson that coordination with Sweden “is sought but is not a precondition”, adding: “Finland does not dictate timetables or conclusions to Sweden and Sweden does not dictate to Finland.”

It is vital that the ruling Social Democrats, who are now launching a review of their internal politics, are seen as masters of their own destiny. After all, last November, the party had clearly affirmed its position of opposition to a foreign policy of alliances. Yet four centre-right parties now support NATO membership and two left-wing parties oppose it, saying joining NATO means standing up for the authoritarians who rule Turkey and Hungary. With parliamentary elections looming in September, the SDP will want the overhaul to be completed without the party sinking into left-right divisions.

One of the difficulties is that, given the behavior of Russia, no plan B such as greater Swedish-Finnish defense cooperation or the NATO partnership for peace seems as concrete as joining full share. Most NATO countries regard Sweden and Finland as huge military and intelligence assets. “It would complete a missing piece of NATO’s strategic planning puzzle,” said Mika Aaltola, director of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

But Finland should apply for NATO membership without knowing the precise future relations. In its security document released this week, Finland insisted: “Membership would not oblige Finland to accept nuclear weapons, permanent bases or troops on its territory. For example, at the start of their membership, the founding members, Norway and Denmark, imposed unilateral restrictions on their membership and did not allow permanent troops, bases or nuclear weapons of the alliance on their territory. in times of peace. NATO’s enlargement policy, which took shape in the second half of the 1990s, is based on the principle that it will not place nuclear weapons, permanent troops or permanent bases on NATO territory. a new member country.

But if Finland, or even Sweden, set a mass of limiting preconditions regarding nuclear weapons, permanent bases or forces, the application process could be prolonged.

A long accession process in turn carries risks since Russia, using the full spectrum of the gray zone of war, will seek to harass or even cripple. On the day Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addressed the Finnish parliament, Russia was accused of cyberattacks and invasions of its airspace. Finland has already approached NATO members for security guarantees during the four months to a year it was in the NATO antechamber awaiting full acceptance.

There is therefore an incentive to speed up application without delegitimising national consultation.

For those who fear that NATO will escalate the conflict inside Ukraine, a sudden extension of Article 5 obligations in the north remains alarming and could make Putin even more convinced that he was right to face a NATO policy of encirclement. But for all its rhetoric about red lines and stationing nuclear weapons, can Russia really open a second front in the north when the main front in the southwest is proving so costly in lost lives, reputation and in treasures?

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