Two nations long considered partners to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are now contemplating membership in the security alliance. Late last year, Putin called on Western allies to halt any further eastward expansion of NATO, citing mounting threats on its western borders. Finland, however, cited Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as reason for its consideration of NATO accession. Sweden’s ruling party now also engages in national debate on whether or not to join the alliance.
Finland’s 830-mile border with Russia provides reason alone to consider NATO membership. Prime Minister Sanna Marin said earlier this month that her government will make a decision regarding application by the end of spring. Her announcement comes just months after remarks that Finland is “very unlikely” to apply for NATO membership during her current term in office.
Former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb told news outlet Axios that he expects the decision to come as soon as May, acknowledging the rapid change in popular opinion on the prospect: “I think Finns at the moment are driven by what I call rational fear.” According to a poll recently conducted by a Finnish think tank, 60% of Finns support their nation joining NATO, representing a stunning 34% increase from last fall. Only 19% now remain opposed.
While just last month, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson dismissed calls from the opposition party to consider NATO membership, recent Russian aggression has forced a “rethink” of the nation’s international security policy. On the decision of NATO membership, Sweden’s PM stated just this week, “I see no reason in delaying the process.” Both the ruling party and opposition are likely to back a NATO application.
Popular opinion among Finns reflects the pivot seen among government leaders. Poll results released last month showed for the first time a majority of Swedes support the prospect of entry into NATO. Six out of ten Swedes now support joining NATO if Finland does.
Much to the Kremlin’s ire, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg suggested “allies will welcome” Finland and Sweden should they choose to apply. In a televised interview earlier this month, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov described NATO as “an organization meant for aggression,” decrying the bloc’s self-ascribed “defensive” posture. Peskov further warned that NATO’s “further expansion will not bring additional security to the European continent.” Russia meanwhile weighs retaliatory measures if NATO continues its eastward expansion.