Finland has formally confirmed its intention to join NATO. It came with the words of its president, Sauli Niinisto, ending decades of neutral politics.
The war in Ukraine has changed the attitudes of both Finns and the population and politicians in neighboring – and also neutral – Sweden.
The Swedish ruling Social Democrats are expected to decide today. On Friday, a parliamentary report involving various political forces indicated that joining NATO would significantly strengthen the Scandinavian country’s national security. The final decision is expected in the evening.
Swedish media wrote that it is very likely that Stockholm will officially submit its application the day after Helsinki (this is expected to happen tomorrow).
Russia has reacted angrily, calling Helsinki’s decision (in fact declared in the position expressed this week by Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin) a threat. This also happened in a conversation between Niinistö and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, who, as the Finnish head of state explained, aimed to outline the changes in the security environment after the escalation of tensions between Russia and Ukraine in the autumn.
Moscow’s foreign ministry has not even ruled out “military-technical” measures if Sweden and Finland join the alliance, and the Kremlin has promised a “symmetrical” response.
In Finland, three-quarters of residents are in favor of membership, according to a recent survey. In Sweden, the fluctuation is greater, but still, the share of supporters of such a step is between 50 and 60 percent.
The unexpected challenge: what Turkey thinks
The proposal is expected to be voted on tomorrow in parliament in Helsinki. Both there and in Sweden, however, governments face an unexpected challenge if they want to be part of the alliance: Turkey.
Two days ago, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Ankara could not support the entry of the two countries as it was home to “terrorists”. Erdogan was referring to Kurdish politicians and militants fleeing the Turkish state in the wake of an armed conflict that has killed 40,000 people.
Comments on the last day suggest that talks are already underway between Turkish officials and the two Scandinavian governments, and Finland’s top diplomat Peka Haavistjo has expressed “confidence” that the issue will be resolved. According to Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Garlic-Radman, the talks are moving in the right direction. His comments, quoted by Reuters, are from today’s meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin. Croatia is also creating some tension over the issue, as its president, Socialist Zoran Milanovic has said he will veto it. Zagreb is now ruled by Milanovic’s political opponents in the conservative Croatian Democratic Union.
Today, comments also came from UN Under-Secretary-General Mircea Joanna, who said the bloc was able to address Ankara’s concerns. “Turkey is an important ally and it has expressed reservations that will be highlighted by its friends and allies,” Joanna told reporters as she arrived at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin.
Turkey itself has left room for maneuver: Erdogan’s adviser Ibrahim Kallan said Ankara is “not closing the door” for Sweden and Finland in NATO, but wants to negotiate. According to the Anatolian news agency, Niinistö said he was ready to meet with his Turkish counterpart in person. The Finnish leader explained at the press conference that he talked to Erdogan on the phone a month ago and then heard that Turkey supports Finnish membership, so now he was confused.
In other countries, support for Scandinavian accession is unequivocal. Germany, whose first diplomat, Annalena Baerbock, voiced support for the two countries’ rapid accession to the alliance if they apply. The Czech Republic also accepts this step and wants it to be completed quickly.
According to Baerbock, there should be no “gray area” between applying for NATO membership and the two countries joining the bloc to ensure the best possible security for Sweden and Finland. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited the Scandinavian countries and signed security agreements with them that offer support in the event of a Russian attack. This outlined the hypothetical “transitional period” between the application and the reception, which politicians from both countries have talked about with the United States.
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