The decisions of Finland and Sweden to renounce the neutrality they held for decades and sign up for NATO accession is the strongest indication yet of profound change in Europe in the face of an aggressive Russian imperialist project.
In fact, the two Scandinavian states have made it clear that they expect the threat posed by President Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia to be sustainable, that they will not be intimidated by it and that after the Russian massacre in Bucha, Ukraine, there will be no room is for bystanders. Theirs is a statement of Western determination.
“Military non-alignment has served Sweden well, but our conclusion is that it will not serve us equally well in the future,” Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said on Sunday. “This is not a decision to be taken lightly.”
Since the Finnish and Swedish armies are already well integrated into NATO, one of the reasons why the application process can move quickly is the immediate impact of the countries’ strategic change of course in the face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is less practical than political .
This is a new Europe in which there is no more space. Countries are either protected by NATO or they are on their own against a Russia ruled by a man determined to assert Russia’s place on the world stage by force. For Sweden, and especially Finland, with its 810-mile border with Russia, Mr Putin’s decision to invade a neighboring country could not be ignored.
They were not alone. Germany, a generally pacifist nation since it emerged from the rubble of 1945, has embarked on a massive investment in its armed forces, as well as an attempt to rid itself of its dependence on energy from a Russia that it sees as if not harmless. , had assessed in any case a reliable business partner.
“NATO expansion was never the cause of Mr Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine, but it is certainly a consequence,” said Nathalie Tocci, the director of the Institute of International Affairs in Rome. “Sweden and Finland now see a Russia that is revanchist and revisionist in a way that is far more dangerous than it was during the latter part of the Cold War.”
Sweden and Finland considered neutrality in their interest when faced with the Soviet threat, and in the Swedish case, centuries before. In the more than three decades since the end of the Cold War, they have not changed course, although they have joined the European Union.
The shift in sentiment in the two countries in recent months has been dramatic, a measure of how Mr Putin’s determination to push back NATO and weaken support for it has had the opposite effect: the rebirth of an alliance standing for a generation for a convincing reason for being.
Where last year only a quarter of the population in Sweden and Finland supported NATO accession, today that number has risen sharply – to 76 percent in a recent poll in Finland. Sweden’s ruling Social Democratic Party, the country’s largest party and long a bastion of liberalism, has embraced NATO membership in an extraordinary turn.
“Putin climbed a tree and doesn’t know how to get down,” said Nicole Bacharan, a French foreign policy analyst. “Now he will face a NATO that is stronger and bigger and more determined.”
Article 3 of NATO’s founding treaty says that members “maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to withstand armed attacks” through “continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid”. In the case of Sweden and Finland, these capabilities have already been extensively developed through close cooperation with NATO.
Carl Bildt, a former Swedish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, said: “We were on a slide towards a closer relationship with NATO. But on February 24, the date the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, rocket fuel was given to that particular pad.
He added: “Our decision reflects the view that Russia will remain a complicated place for a long time to come, and that the war in Ukraine will last quite a long time, with erratic and highly revisionist leadership in the Kremlin for the foreseeable future.”
When asked if Sweden feared reprisals from Russia, Bildt said: “You never know with Russia, but the mood is pretty confident.”
The assessment that the war in Ukraine could go on for a long time is now widely shared in Europe. Mr Putin didn’t just hire his neighbor; he took on the West and an America portrayed as an “empire of lies.”
It took about 20 years from the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 for Germany to respond to the alleged humiliation by sending the Third Reich’s war machine across its neighbors’ borders, igniting World War II. It took about 30 years for Mr Putin’s brooding resentment over the alleged humiliation of the breakup of the Soviet Empire to lead to a large-scale invasion of Ukraine.
It seems unlikely that the Russian president will change course, even if his war so far has gone badly.
In practice, both Finland and Sweden have long lived with Russian nuclear weapons in nearby Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic coast.
“These countries are used to Russian violations of their airspace, they know the risks are there,” Ms Tocci said. “But the security gain with NATO is incomparably greater than any additional risk.”
War between Russia and Ukraine: important developments
Getting closer to NATO. The Finnish government announced that the nation would apply for NATO membership hours before the Swedish ruling party said it also supported joining the alliance. If accepted into NATO, both countries would set aside a long history of military non-alignment.
Still, Mr Putin has alluded to Russia’s advanced array of nuclear weapons on more than one occasion, suggesting that he would not hesitate to use them if provoked. That threat is not only for Finland and Sweden if they give up military non-alignment, but for all of Europe and beyond.
Ms Tocci spoke during a visit to Estonia, one of the three Baltic states that were formerly part of the Soviet Union and that joined NATO in 2004. Finnish and Swedish decisions feel like a justification,” she said.
For a long time, even up to the eve of the Russian invasion, Europe has been divided. Countries close to the Russian border — such as the Baltic states and Poland — took a Russian threat seriously because of bitter historical experiences, while countries further west, including Germany and France, were more likely to enjoy the peace dividend of the end of the war. Cold War than they have Putin’s ambitions in the eye.
These illusions persisted even after Putin annexed Crimea in 2014, unleashed a war the same year in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, and used military force to win the endgame in Syria, using brutal methods many years earlier. Chechnya were tightened and clear since February in Ukraine.
In the end, the countries closest to Russia geographically and most directly threatened by Russia were right. Finland and Sweden have experienced this first hand.
Europe is now largely united in its determination to oppose Putin and ensure that he does not win the war in Ukraine. The United States, which had its own Russian illusions, has refocused on Europe and is determined not only to save Ukraine, but also to weaken Russia. These are not short-term ambitions.
“We have a changed Europe,” said Mr. picture. “We will have a stronger NATO, with higher defense spending, more cohesive politically, with a sense of purpose. We will also have a stronger European Union, with more complementarity between it and NATO.”
Europe will, of course, also be challenged economically and otherwise by a long war. And the intermediate countries — essentially Moldova and Georgia, stuck in a no-man’s-land on the fringes of Russia with no NATO protection — will face insidious challenges.
Finland and Sweden learned one core lesson from Ukraine. After NATO’s 2008 announcement that Ukraine and Georgia “will become members of NATO”, a decision barely considered about how and when to achieve that goal, the thorny issue of Ukraine’s membership was shelved by Western leaders who did not want to further provoke Mr Putin.
This made no difference to Mr Putin’s calculus. He similarly invaded Ukraine, devising a Nazi threat and claiming that the Ukrainian state was a myth. Sweden and Finland would not suffer the same fate through misguided restraint. “They have learned a lesson,” said Mrs. Tocci.
The question remains how Mr Putin will get out of his tree. He called the Finnish decision “a mistake” and insisted there was no Russian threat to the country. He also cut off Russian electricity supplies to Finland. There are no signs that he has given up on his belief that violence will ultimately achieve Russia’s strategic goals.
“Even if Putin realizes he has made a mistake, I doubt he will ever admit it,” Bildt said. “The consequences would be too great. This was no small mistake. It was a catastrophic strategic error of the first order.”