Putin's backfire: Finland parliament nearly unanimous on NATO membership; Sweden signs application

Vladimir Putin’s humiliating backfire on his “special military operation” has nearly reached its final stage. Despite threats and saber-rattling aimed at cowing Finland and Sweden out of NATO, his invasion of Ukraine and subsequent threats have completely destroyed the political consensus for neutrality in both countries. In Finland, only eight members of the 200-seat parliament objected to Finland’s formal application for NATO membership this morning:


Finland’s Parliament has overwhelmingly endorsed a bid from the Nordic country’s government to join NATO.

Lawmakers at the 200-seat Eduskunta legislature voted 188-8 Tuesday to approve Finland seeking membership in the 30-member Western military alliance.

The vote was seen a formality as Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced the intention on Sunday, and lawmakers’ approval wasn’t necessarily required. However, both Niniisto and Marin stressed that it was important for the Parliament to weigh in on the NATO bid, described by the Finnish head of state as “historic.”

Finland is now expected to sign a formal application and file it to NATO headquarters in the coming days together with Nordic neighbor Sweden where the government announced a similar NATO bid on Monday.

The parliament vote was a smart political move from both Niinisto and Marin. Just in terms of longer-term repercussions from the NATO application, such as Russian trade actions and threats, having everyone on the record now will insulate Niinisto and Marin from criticism when those impacts get felt more fully. More importantly, though, the near unanimity sends a signal to Putin and to Russians more broadly that their actions have irreparably ruptured their previous collegial relationship. The sudden move into NATO isn’t just a whim by a few politicians, but the clear consensus will of the Finns.

And for that matter, the Swedes as well. Earlier today, Sweden signed its formal application to join NATO, starting what will likely be a short consideration process before both Sweden and Finland gain full membership:


Sweden on Tuesday formally applied to join NATO, the country’s SVT and TV4 news channels reported.

Both outlets published footage of Foreign Minister Ann Linde signing what they said was the application to the military alliance. Sweden’s application is to be submitted alongside Finland’s, SVT reported.

The countries announced their intention to join NATO and bolster their defenses after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Finland shares a long border with Russia, while Sweden neighbors Finland.

Jazz wrote earlier about Putin’s apparent retreat from some of his earlier saber rattling over the NATO expansion at yesterday’s Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) meeting. The venue for that retreat seems curious, since the CSTO exists as Putin’s counterpart to NATO, where the collective strength of his alliance would normally be used to express and project competing power.

The word “alliance” may not apply well in this case, however. Only one of the CSTO members — Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko — expressed any support for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. In fact, Lukashenko scolded the other former Soviet republics for their infidelity to the tsar:

Speaking first in the televised portion of the summit, President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus — who has supported Mr. Putin’s war but has not sent troops — criticized other members for having insufficiently backed Russia and Belarus in the face of Western sanctions.

He pointed to the alliance’s decision to send forces to Kazakhstan in January to protect the government from protests — yet argued it had left Russia largely on its own over Ukraine.

“Are we just as connected by bonds of solidarity and support now?” he asked, after mentioning the alliance’s support of the Kazakh government. “Maybe I’m wrong, but as recent events have shown, it seems the answer is no.”

Kazakhstan has said it would not help Russia circumvent international sanctions. In a United Nations vote on March 2 condemning the invasion of Ukraine, Belarus was the only post-Soviet country to take Russia’s side.

“Look at how monolithically the European Union votes and acts,” Mr. Lukashenko said at Monday’s summit, sitting at a round table with the other leaders. “If we are separate, we’ll just be crushed and torn apart.”

As if to confirm Mr. Lukashenko’s point, the leaders of the other members — Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan — did not mention Ukraine in their televised remarks.


The New York Times reports that one reason the other CSTO members aren’t enthusiastic about supporting Putin in his Ukraine adventure are the economic sanctions themselves. They need access to Western markets for their own economic survival, especially now with Russia almost entirely isolated. Second, the other republics could be forgiven for not wanting to jump on Putin’s bandwagon over an invasion on which they hadn’t been consulted in the first place. Pottery Barn rules apply here — Putin broke it, and so he bought it, not the CSTO.

Even more basic than that, though, is the question of who’s next on Putin’s hit list. When will Putin find Nazis in their midsts, and when will the Russian invasion of their states come when Putin needs a distraction for Russians from his corruption and maladministration? Finland and Sweden aren’t the only neighbors of Russia that have to recalculate based on Putin’s now-naked imperialist ambitions. Putin’s backfire may echo all over Eurasia by the time it finishes.

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