The pillar of Vladimir Putin’s story to explain his policies is the permanent fight against a malevolent and expansionist NATO. He justifies his actions because that way defends national interests and borders of a military alliance of its European enemies with the United States. That was the reason he gave for invading Ukraine: to set an example of what could happen to any of its neighbors who happened to express even the slightest desire to join NATO. Three months later, it is clear that Moscow’s “great strategist” made an extraordinary miscalculation.
The fact that he convinced himself that Western nations would not come to Ukraine’s aid for the simple reason that did not enjoy the protection of article 5 of the alliance -if one of the members is attacked, all the others come to his aid- shows the irrationality of their geopolitical perception. The alliance was more united than ever and armed the Ukrainian forces as it had done before with any associated ally. Before beginning its invasion, there was no prospect of a real Russian confrontation with the Western military alliance, now it is fighting directly against the most powerful military apparatus.
Like those cartoon characters who are accompanied everywhere by a cloud that only throws rain on them, Putin is now challenged by two other countries that until just a few weeks ago maintained their military neutrality. Finland and Sweden break with decades of non-interventionist tradition to request “immediate” incorporation into NATO. Fear unites them. They fear being the next Ukraines. It is better to be already under the famous article 5 than to wait for the claw of the Russian bear to launch the first blow to receive Western solidarity.
“Opinion polls on NATO membership have changed almost overnight. Now there is an overwhelming majority in favor of joining the alliance in both Finland and Sweden”, wrote the former Finnish prime minister, Alexander Stubb, in the Financial Times. “For Finland the decision has been easier, because it is based on real politics. During the cold war we were neutral by necessity, not by choice. Finland has not been neutral since the early 1990s. Sweden’s tradition of neutrality has been longer and more ideological. But when realities change, both countries adapt. After all, security is about reality, not ideology”.
Both Nordic countries are expected to formally apply in the coming days and be accepted with open arms by the 30 active members. They are expected to attend the June NATO summit in Madrid as “guests”, which gives the two states observer status in all discussions except those related to nuclear capabilities. Although they would not become full members for another six or eight monthsdue to national ratification processes, would be treated as if they were.
The Kremlin, of course, renewed his threats against Helsinki and Stockholm. “Naturally, it is up to the Swedish and Finnish authorities themselves to decide, but must understand the consequences of this step for our bilateral relations and the European security architecture in general that now it is in crisis,” said the spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zajarova. And former Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev warned that if these nations join NATO, Russia will reinforce its military contingent, including the deployment of nuclear weapons, in the Baltic Seanear Scandinavia.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who visited both countries on Wednesday and signed bilateral security agreements, said without mentioning the famous Article 5, which both Sweden and Finland would enjoy NATO’s collective defense mechanism as soon as they requested it. Military analysts do not believe that Russia is in a position to immediately intervene against these two countries. When British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace was asked about this possibility, he shrugged and said: “With what?…Russia is very weak militarily. She already lost 16% of her total ground forces.”
“With this incorporation, the most important geopolitical readjustment in the Nordic countries for a generation. Politically, it’s huge,” Pekka Toveri, a former chief of intelligence for the Finnish defense forces, told The Telegraph. “The Baltic Sea will become a NATO inland lakewhere the Russian navy has no ability to operate, except under water.”
In historical terms, the relations of Sweden and Finland with Russia have been complicated for centuries. King Charles XII of Sweden invaded and conquered parts of Russian territory in the early 18th century, but lost the battle at Poltava, in present-day Ukraine, to the army of Tsar Peter the Great, and also lost its role as a power in northern Europe. In that same process, the Stockholm kingdom lost Finland to the Russians in another war in 1809. The autonomous territory of the Grand Duchy of Finland was created within the Russian empire.
A century later, in the midst of the chaos of the Russian Revolution of 1917, Finland declared its independence on December 6 of that year.. It maintained that status until World War II, when Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact that included a secret protocol that assigned Finland, as well as Estonia and Latvia, as part of the Soviet “sphere of influence”.
Joseph Stalin’s Red Army attacked Finland in 1939, in what became known as the Winter War in which the Finns had to fight alonethe western allies did not give him any military aid. This caused Helsinki to ally itself with Nazi Germany in a second war against the Soviet Union between 1941 and 1944.. When the Moscow Armistice was signed in September 1944, Finland lost 10% of its territory. It had to relocate 400,000 inhabitants, 11% of its population, from lost territories and pay $300 million worth of war reparations, about $5.3 billion in today’s terms. This left Finland with a huge political and economic dependency on the Kremlin and cut off from Western Europe. President Urho Kekkonen, who governed between 1956 and 1982, was the great cultist of this “Finnishization”. The now powerful technology Nokia was then a state company that manufactured Russian military uniforms.
The fall of the Soviet Union freed Finland from joined the European Union in 1995, though not NATO. He exchanged neutrality for military non-alignment. As of 2020, 80% of Finns believed that peace was best maintained by maintaining friendly relations and economic ties with Moscow. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine changed their minds. 76% are now in favor of joining NATO and only 12% remain against it.
Sweden remained a neutral state and this allowed it to pursue an independent foreign policy, although it was later learned that Since the 1960s, it had a secret agreement that the United States would come to the defense of Stockholm in the event of an attack by the USSR.. During the Cold War it had several serious incidents with the Soviets, but all were resolved diplomatically. Sweden’s opposition to NATO membership was always more ideological. His postwar foreign policy focused on multilateral dialogue and nuclear disarmament, and for a long time saw herself as a mediator on the international scene. She even reduced her army after the end of the Cold War. Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014 made him change course again. Reintroduced compulsory military service and increased defense spending. Now, there is a majority of Swedes who say that it is necessary to join NATO.
Both countries have very well equipped and trained armed forces. In fact, many of its soldiers conduct frequent joint training with NATO troops and even participated in the joint intervention in Afghanistan. Finland spends 2% of its gross domestic product on defense. It has 62 F-18 fighters and recently purchased 64 F-35s. It has a permanent reserve of 900,000 men and women, with the capacity to increase wartime mobility to 280,000. Sweden also has an army of similar conscript proportions and has a powerful fleet of submarines and intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft. In Brussels, European military delegates believe that both forces will strengthen NATO and will give you a comparative advantage in the Baltic Sea.
In Brussels they also believe that this move by the two Scandinavian countries is creating a huge controversy within the Russian armed forces themselves, particularly the Navy, which suddenly finds itself with some enemies that can block the exit of the fleet through the Baltic and towards the Atlantic. “I think some in the Kremlin will be wondering what the hell is going on. Russia had a geostrategic location in Central and Eastern Europe that was very beneficial. They had Belarus in their pocket, a part of Ukraine in their pocket. His fleet sailed freely off Scandinavia,” says Pekka Toveri, the former Finnish intelligence chief, wryly. “So this ‘strategic genius’ turns the tables and they lose Northern Europe entirely. Now they no longer have a way that they can protect the Kola Peninsula (it houses the Northern Fleet in the far north-west of Russia) and St. Petersburg if there is a war with NATO.”
The geostrategic change of Finland and Sweden definitively changes the relationship of forces in Eastern Europe. It is a blow that, obviously, Putin did not see coming. Anyway, for now he should be more concerned about the fate of his troops in the Ukrainian Donbas. in the last hours lost an entire division of their best tanks and Russian soldiers are retreating in strategic areas north of Kharkiv.