Russia considers Finland’s NATO membership a direct threat
Finland is no longer a non-aligned country. To Russia’s astonishment, the President and the Prime Minister have declared themselves in favor of the Nordic country’s accession to NATO. This position of the Social Democratic government is a prerequisite for the continuation of the accession process which, according to the country’s presidency, will be officially announced on Sunday. Sweden is watching closely since, if there are no setbacks, it will accompany its sister country in joining the Atlantic Alliance. The Kremlin has immediately reacted to the “threat” and warned that it will be forced to take “military-technical and other countermeasures to counter the threats that have arisen to its national security,” as reflected in a Russian Foreign Ministry statement.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24, has shattered the historical neutrality of the two Nordic countries, frightened by the possibility that the Russian giant, with which they share borders, could launch a military attack, similar to the one it has carried out on Ukrainian territory.
“NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As one of its members, Finland would also strengthen the Alliance as a whole. Finland must be a candidate for membership without delay,” President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin have signed a joint communiqué. Although predictable, both leaders had kept their position out of the public debate so as not to influence their fellow citizens. “We have needed time for the Parliament and the whole society to establish their positions on the matter. Also to establish close international contacts with NATO and its member countries, as well as with Sweden. We wanted to give the discussion the space it needed,” they said. NATO membership was already an issue on the table in Finland and Sweden for many years that the war in Ukraine has elevated to a priority.
After repeated threats from Russia if they decided to join the Atlantic bloc, the Finnish president has stressed that the decision is “not against anyone”, in clear reference to Moscow. “If we want to maximize our security, it means maximizing our country’s defense,” Niinisto explained during a press conference, adding that “no one can be offended if someone wants to defend themselves.” The president has denounced that Russia has decided to try to take away Finland’s decision-making power in its own defense by demanding that the Atlantic Alliance not expand further eastward. “If we decide to join (NATO), a possible answer could be that you caused this. Look in the mirror (Putin),” Niinisto has said .
The two Nordic countries have been cooperating with NATO since 1994 under the Partnership for Peace. They participate in joint training and exercises and have already contributed to some NATO operations in Afghanistan and the Balkans.Helsinki and Stockholm would also contribute significant military capabilities. Finland has only 12,000 professional soldiers in its Army. But it trains more than 20,000 recruits a year and can count on a wartime army of 280,000 combat-capable soldiers, plus another 600,000 reservists, an exceptional force for a European nation. The Swedish Army has about 50,000 soldiers. Compulsory military service, abolished in 2010, was partially reintroduced in 2017. And although Sweden has disinvested heavily in defense over the past 30 years, falling from 2.6% of GDP in 1990 to 1.2% in 2020, it began to reverse the trend after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto believes that although his country, which shares a land border with Russia of more than 1,300 kilometers, does not face “a direct and imminent threat,” the invasion launched by the Kremlin has opened a profound national debate on the impact of the war on its security. “There are five issues that have changed as of February 24 and the first is Russia’s unpredictable behavior. It seems that it is ready to carry out operations of high risk for Russia itself and which would result in a high number of casualties”, he explained, pointing also to other elements such as Russia’s pressure on neighboring countries with the deployment of troops, the possible use of nuclear or chemical weapons or the fact that it does not respect the rules of war, as evidenced by the war crimes committed and under investigation.