Nordic countries wonder if they are next on Putin’s list
The West’s almost unprecedented unity on sanctions, political and military action has left many Europeans, despite the horrors of Putin’s war, optimistic that the continent will emerge better equipped to deal with security threats.
Nowhere is this truer than in the three Nordic nations that sit on the Scandinavian Peninsula: Norway, Sweden and Finland.
The fate of these three countries has been highlighted by the crisis in Ukraine due to their unique relationship with each other, the rest of Europe and Russia.
Norway and Finland share land borders with Russia, although Norway’s is significantly smaller at less than 124 miles, compared to Finland’s 800-mile border. Norway, the westernmost of the three, is a member of NATO but not in the European Union, while Finland and Sweden are in the EU but not in NATO.
All three have historically supported a non-confrontational approach to Russia since the breakup of the Soviet Union due to their proximity. Furthermore, all three are also members of the EU Schengen area, which means that there is borderless travel between the three countries.
It is these last two facts that have played a significant role in the major overhaul of European security over the past three weeks: how can you have a policy of non-confrontation when you simultaneously share an open landmass with Russia ?
A senior European defense official told CNN that “if Putin is successful in Ukraine, we are already asking the question, who is next?” They added that due to the open borders between the three, any compromise on the Finnish border would be “traumatic” for the peninsula.
Active talks, once seen by Sweden and Finland as a risky act of provocation against Russia, are now taking place in both countries over NATO membership. And, along with their Norwegian neighbour, both are throwing non-confrontation out the window.
“Finland and Sweden suddenly broke their long-standing position not to export weapons to war zones and sending supplies to Ukraine was the biggest shock to Europeans in terms of the Nordic response – and I suspect Putin,” said Charly Salonius. -Pasternak, a leading global security researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.
He foresees that we could still see bolder moves from the three due to commitments made in the Nordic Defense Cooperation (NORDEFCO) Vision 2025 document, which sets out plans for closer military cooperation between five Nordic nations. which have different relations with NATO and the EU.
“If suddenly Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland are stockpiling weapons and units in other countries and coordinating their action, then we are in the territory of hard security operating across the borders of EU and NATO, which will really make life more difficult for Russia,” said Salonius-Pasternak.
The severity and robustness of the Nordic countries’ reaction raised the prospect of Finland joining NATO.
Alexander Stubb, Finland’s former prime minister, believes NATO membership is much more likely because Putin has destroyed the careful balance Finland has maintained for years.
“Strategically, we have always wanted to continue to join NATO in our back pocket as a deterrent to prevent Russia from engaging in aggressive behavior. We have kept our military balance compatible with NATO, while n ‘not being members of the alliance,” Stubb told CNN.
However, he believes Putin’s actions have made that balance impossible. “Finland is driven by what I call rational fear. We can see Russia’s aggression and we don’t want to be left alone like we were in World War II.”
Although joining NATO is a major statement, there is an argument to be made that it makes little difference in a world where there is such universal revulsion at Putin’s actions.
“For years, Finland and Sweden have taken steps to mitigate the fact that they are not part of NATO by strengthening their ties with the United States, the United Kingdom and the rest of the transatlantic community. “, said Håkon Lunde Saxi, associate professor at the Norwegian Defense University. University.
He says things like NORDEFCO and the Nordic countries cooperating more closely on security make the region less vulnerable in ways that in some ways transcend EU and NATO membership.
“The most powerful message in recent weeks has been unity,” Saxi said.
“First, Denmark and Sweden sent lethal material to Ukraine, then Finland and Norway followed suit. The urgency of the situation makes this kind of cooperation accelerate, which makes possible protection against any adversary,” he added.
It must be difficult for Putin and his accomplices to understand, but their barbaric war in Ukraine has galvanized parts of Europe that once bent over backwards to accommodate Russia in a previously unthinkable move.
Each time the horror ends, he could wake up in a very different Europe, almost unrecognizable from the one he may have intimidated with gas and rhetoric. And some of the most vocal adversaries could be waiting at his doorstep.