Finland, Sweden debate possibility of joining NATO
Finland and Sweden could soon join NATO at the negotiations table for talks regarding the two country's membership, and Russia responds.
Finland is set to release Wednesday an official assessment of how the war in Ukraine allegedly changed its prospects for security, kicking off a process that could see Helsinki demanding NATO accession.
The Finnish Foreign Ministry argued that its assessment, known as a white paper, would not advocate for nor against Helsinki's accession into the alliance; it would spark a debate about the country's defense.
Finland, alongside its neighbor to the West, Sweden, is expected to request NATO membership in the coming months - before summer. Their accession, if it were to happen, would redefine European security and would be met with opposition from Russia, which has been very vocal about its opposition to NATO's expansion.
"We will have very careful discussions, but we will also not take any more time than we have to in this process because the situation is, of course, very severe," Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin told reporters in a nod to a decision being made before summer.
Sweden, on the other hand, still has not fully made up its mind with regards to joining the alliance, for Stockholm has opposed NATO altogether, and is non-aligned militarily, just like Finland.
A complicated past
The country's Social Democrats said they would rethink their position on the alliance in the coming month, not going much into detail about the amount of support that would be given nor the timeframe of the decision-making.
"We need to consider it," Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said. "We have to analyze the situation to see what's best for the Swedish people. We are not going to rush into anything [...] There are risks and possibilities with all the different alternatives for action and all the different scenarios."
US and NATO officials had signaled last week that Helsinki and Stockholm would be granted membership in the alliance were they to apply during a discussion about NATO's expansion.
The alliance has ties with both nordic nations, as they have cooperated militarily, trained their troops with the alliance's, and they meet the alliance's criteria for accession, namely, according to NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, the "political, democratic, civilian control over the security institutions and the armed forces."
"We've exercised; we've trained with them. They bring very capable militaries," US ambassador to NATO, Julianne Smith, said. "They are some of our closest allies in Europe, and so I can’t imagine a situation where there would be tremendous resistance to this idea."
Russia has criticized accusations that it posed a threat to the two countries discussing a possible NATO membership in light of regional tensions.
"These claims [over an alleged Russian threat] are unintelligent. They are not based on facts. They are in the realm of propaganda and provocations. They go against the national interests of those countries," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Wednesday in response to statements from Helsinki and Stockholm about the matter.
"I believe it would be wrong to consider these statements as an independent opinion," she added after Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said her country's citizens must make their own security decisions.
Zakharova argued that the Scandinavian politicians advocating for joining NATO serve not the interests of their people but rather the interests of the US.
Moscow's response came chiefly due to media reports saying Finland and Sweden were ready to join NATO as early as summer.
US officials said NATO membership for both Nordic countries was "a topic of conversation and multiple sessions" during talks between the alliance's foreign ministers last week attended by Sweden and Finland, The Times reported.
And though Moscow opposes the alliance's expansion, it does not see the accession of Finland and Sweden into the bloc as an existential threat, Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov underlined, Russia will work on its Western flank to make it more sophisticated in terms of security in the face of NATO creeping in on its northern borders.