Despite Putin, Finland and Sweden "closer than ever" to joining NATO

Despite Putin, Finland and Sweden "closer than ever" to joining NATO
(Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Today marks the beginning of a couple of weeks of high-level meetings in various European locations between diplomats representing Russia and the United States, along with NATO. As we discussed over the weekend, prospects for any sort of major advancements during these talks seem unlikely in the opinion of most foreign policy analysts. The two sides remain far apart on some of the key issues being argued, with few options for something approaching a middle ground being obvious. But some additional news that came out last night will likely hinder the process further and leave Russian President Vladimir Putin fuming even more than he has been in recent months. Both Finland and Sweden are reportedly once again in talks to potentially join NATO and are “closer than ever” to making that happen. If you see some steam rising over Moscow today, it’s probably coming off of Putin’s forehead. (Daily Mail)

Finland and Sweden are ‘closer than ever’ to joing Nato after Russian threats backfired.

Vladimir Putin’s demands that the US ban the Nordic nations from the alliance has made their joining more likely in the wake of heightened tensions around Russian troops along the border with Ukraine…

A Finnish MP told the Telegraph that the country – which borders Russia – was closer to joining the alliance after Russian aggression.

In addition to the comments from the Finnish MP, the Prime Minister of Sweden said that she has been in talks about ‘deepening the partnership between Sweden and NATO’ with the organization’s Secretary-General. None of this constitutes an official decision or announcement, but both countries seem serious about it. And this news comes at a time when Putin is already threatening to deploy hypersonic missiles toward the capitals of some NATO nations if they expand further eastward. For their part, NATO has said that both countries meet all of the qualifications for membership should they formally apply, so the approvals would likely be granted.

If it was only Sweden talking about joining, Putin might not get as bent out of shape over this. After all, Sweden doesn’t share a border with Russia and they are neighbors with Norway, which is already a NATO member. Considering their physical location as compared to Latvia and Lithuania (both NATO members) Sweden’s entry might not be seen as technically “expanding NATO’s borders further to the east,” which is one of Putin’s major demands.

But Finland is another question entirely. As we discussed here previously, they share a huge border with Russia. Given that border’s proximity to Moscow, Putin could easily move a significant number of troops to the area in short order if he were so inclined.

The situation in Finland is complicated, however. Recent polling indicates that 40% of Fins oppose joining NATO while only 26% support it. So despite the comments from the Finnish PM, they may not actually be as “close” to signing to be a member as some of these reports appear to suggest.

Here’s one question that crossed my mind while pondering this news today. We’re now at the point where Putin is facing the possibility that he could see NATO expanding into Ukraine, Finland, and Sweden. At the same time, there are rumblings from pro-democracy dissident groups in Kazakhstan that are threatening the stability of the Russian-friendly government there. Is it possible that NATO and its partners are considering flooding the zone and pitting Russia against so many potential adversaries that he could never sustain military action against all of them at once? In other words, is NATO thinking about calling Putin’s “bluff” and counting on him backing down?

That would be a risky strategy, if so. Russia already took over the Crimean Peninsula and got away with it easily. I’m no longer sure that we can count on Putin to avoid any further incursions. But if NATO expands to the point where it completely boxes in Russia’s borders to the west and the south, don’t act surprised if he responds with force.

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