Vladimir Putin had better prepare himself for the worst backfire in Russian history since the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Finland’s government has concluded its highly anticipated official analysis of its security situation in the post-Ukraine invasion world, and it is now all but certain that the Finns will seek NATO membership. While Finland is able to defend itself, the white paper discards the decades-long policy of pursuing trade relations with Russia to avert its military threat:
Membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has become the preferred option for Finns after their former imperial master started a full-scale war on Feb. 24. The Nordic nation, which in the past staked its security on fostering a trade relationship with Russia, concluded no such ties would now guarantee its safety.
Finland is currently not experiencing an immediate military threat, but is preparing for the possible use of military force against it, according to the white paper published in Helsinki on Wednesday.
While the document makes no formal proposal to join NATO, it notes doing so would have the benefit of security guarantees in the form of the alliance’s mutual defense clause that states an attack on one is an attack on all.
Ukraine traded freely with Russia before 2014. How well did that work out for Kyiv?
The Russians probably had fewer illusions about Finnish resistance than they did about executing a simple decapitation of Ukraine’s government, though. Memories of the Winter War of 1939-40 are long on both sides, which the Soviets technically won on the basis of marginal territorial gain but ended up getting their asses handed to them. (The term “Molotov cocktail” originated in this war, coined to describe the Finn’s brutally effective anti-tank tactics.) Finland remained in control of 90% of its country and has trained its populace for resistance ever since — far more than the Ukrainians did, in fact.
So when the Finns declare, as they did in this white paper, that they are prepared to defend themselves, not even the Russians can doubt it. That’s doubly true given the shockingly incompetent and barbaric performance of the Russian military against a lightly armed foe like the Ukrainians. Still, the Finns can now read the writing on the wall in Putin’s regime and can now grasp why collective security isn’t so much a choice at this point but an absolute necessity.
They aren’t alone, either. Sweden, which at times has made a fetish of neutrality, is also about to go all-in on NATO in view of the renewed Russian threat:
Speaking at a joint press conference Wednesday with her Finnish colleague Sanna Marin, Andersson reiterated the Swedish government is due to present a report in late May on its options following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. She also said any future stance will include a continued close security alignment with Finland.
Newspaper Svenska Dagbladet reported earlier on Wednesday Andersson’s Social Democrats have reversed its opposition to NATO membership, seeking to apply for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation by June, citing party sources it didn’t identify.
“We will continue our close coordination and cooperation, and we have to discuss different options, and no option is without risk,” Andersson said. “We want to analyse the situation to see what is best for Sweden’s security.”
The Finns aren’t pulling their punches. Marin noted in her statement today that they now see NATO not just as a military alliance but also a political and cultural alliance as well. That is a big shot across the bow of the imperialists in Moscow, especially its chief imperialist:
Finland’s application has enormous security implications for Moscow. While technically NATO already holds ground within a hundred miles of St. Petersburg, thanks to its positions in the Baltic states, the logistics of such a threat become a lot simpler from Finland. Furthermore, it could put NATO ground forces within 150 miles of Russia’s critical naval base in Murmansk. It would also force the Russians to consider a territorial defense along 850 miles of borderlands that would not have represented a threat from an independent Finland.
The big question now is whether Putin tries to stop the two countries from joining NATO before they can achieve that collective security. That would almost certainly touch off a wider war than Putin can handle, but he probably can’t handle the humiliation of this backfire either:
As Helsinki and Stockholm mull whether to make it official, a key question is whether and how they will be protected from potential Russian aggression in the period between expressing interest and actual membership, which could take many months.
Russia has warned of “serious military-political consequences” and “retaliation” should the two countries join. Although Finnish leaders have mostly downplayed the threat, the country is preparing for a range of possible responses from Russia, from serious to mostly symbolic, said Henri Vanhanen, a foreign policy expert and adviser to Finland’s National Coalition Party.
Given the performance of Russian forces in the field, that sounds like an empty threat. Even if it’s not, NATO will almost certainly establish mutual defense status well ahead of official admission:
Vanhanen expects that NATO will find ways to “signal that Sweden and Finland are protected” in the interim, such as making a political commitment to ensuring safe accession or stepping up military cooperation in some way.
“If they give us the signal that we are welcome, it is in their interest that this happens as smoothly as possible,” he said. “It would be a huge blow to NATO if their open-door policy is undermined.”
Stoltenberg said last week he was “certain that the alliance will find ways to address concerns about the period between potential application and ratification,” but he declined to offer specifics on what is being discussed.
If Russia goes after Finland or Sweden with a military attack, NATO might follow up by launching an attack on Kaliningrad/Königsberg to keep the Russians from attacking the rear of the Baltic states. Russians use that enclave for strategic anti-aircraft operations in Europe, so its loss would be a tremendous blow to its strategic position against NATO. Any move by Russia outside of Ukraine in Europe would be seen as an escalation that requires a robust response, and now that Europe has (mostly) had the scales fall from its eyes about Putin’s true nature, no one’s going to be in much mood to appease him.
The only question is whether Putin’s ready to lose on a much bigger scale than he already has. At this point, he’s as impotent in Finland and Sweden as NATO was in Ukraine, and maybe Putin’s starting to figure it out — too late.