During the first week of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, when Allahpundit was examining how Putin’s plan was already turning into a historic debacle, he speculated about one of the many unintended consequences Russia might be facing. He described how both Finland and Sweden had “resisted joining NATO for decades so as not to provoke Russia.” And it was a plan that had been working pretty well for them, at least until Putin apparently lost his mind. As recently as last October, Putin had been meeting with Finland’s president, Sauli Niinisto, to discuss bilateral agreements and climate change. But barely six months later, both Finland and Sweden are acting like they could be joining NATO in a matter of months, if not weeks. These would be significant moves on their part with serious potential consequences. (CNN)
Finland and Sweden could soon join NATO, moves that would likely infuriate Moscow and that officials say would further underscore Russia’s strategic error in invading Ukraine.
NATO officials told CNN that discussions about Sweden and Finland joining the bloc have gotten extremely serious since Russia’s invasion, and US senior State Department officials said the matter came up at this week’s NATO foreign ministerial, which was attended by the foreign ministers from Stockholm and Helsinki.
Officials said the discussions underline the extent to which Vladimir Putin’s invasion has only served to reinvigorate and unify the NATO alliance — the exact opposite of Putin’s stated goals before the war began. The Russian President had demanded that NATO cease expanding east and admitting new members, accusing the bloc of threatening Russian security. Instead, NATO has increased its support to Ukraine and is preparing to welcome new members.
The fact that adding Finland and Sweden to the NATO roster would “infuriate Moscow” and Putin personally isn’t lost on the leadership of either of these countries. They’ve been part of the Russian “buffer zone” against NATO for a long time and are used to performing this balancing act. According to Breaking Defense, Finnish Ministry of Defense officials are already gaming out what Russia’s response might be and how they would handle it. They also point out that there is a significant difference between being a member of NATO and an applicant for membership.
“Of course, Russia will react, but we don’t know how. And we need to be prepared” should Finland decide to join NATO, said Esa Pulkkinen, the permanent secretary at Finland’s Ministry of Defense. “We need to be ready, of course, to face consequences.”
NATO’s vaunted Article 5 protections do not kick in for aspirant members, only ratified ones. That means from the moment Finland — and perhaps its neighbor Sweden — declares the intention to join NATO until the moment every alliance member has ratified their ascension, there is no guarantee other nations will come to their aid in response to military action by Moscow.
For either nation to make a formal application for membership would be a risky move, but perhaps not as risky as it would have been in pre-invasion days. They clearly can’t write off the possibility of Russia launching an attack against them because you apparently can’t write off the possibility of Putin doing anything these days. The Madman of Moscow no longer seems to be playing with a full deck. And as the linked report notes, they would not be assured of military backing from NATO unless their application had been approved by the full membership of NATO.
But with that said, there are a couple of other considerations to be taken into account here. First of all, given how disastrously Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has gone, the number of troops they’ve lost (including generals), and the amount of hardware they are burning through, could they actually consider opening up a second front in the current war on the opposite end of their country? That’s particularly dubious if you’re talking about taking on two countries that are rested and ready to go. I suppose Mad Vlad could start lobbing some missiles at Helsinki and Stockholm in a fit of pique, but that would still qualify as a declaration of war.
Also, how long would it really take to approve those applications if they were submitted? It’s usually a long, deliberative process, but we’ve lived to see interesting times. NATO is probably more united right now than they’ve been since the end of the cold war. It’s possible that one or two eastern European members might balk at voting for admission using the excuse of not wanting to antagonize Putin further. But there would be some serious arm-twisting going on in the background, I’m sure. I mean, what is the limit on the number of countries Russia can attack without provocation before Putin triggers a military response?
If an attack on either of these two nations does take place, whether it be pre or post NATO membership approval, we’re basically at the endgame scenario nobody wants to think about. If Finland is approved for Membership and a single Russian missile lands inside their borders, even Joe Biden has made it clear that we will “defend every inch of NATO territory.” So that missile would essentially be the opening volley in World War 3. Is that where this has been heading all along? I can’t believe it’s what Putin really wanted. But he may not be able to restrain himself at this point.