Russia’s February 24th invasion of Ukraine gave two northern European nations cause to consider NATO membership, effectively reversing decades of official nonalignment with the 30-member security alliance. Both Finland and Sweden recently indicated their nations’ strong consideration of NATO application amid ever increasing volatility on the continent, and Finnish leaders made public their intentions last week with a similar announcement from Sweden expected to follow.
In a joint statement, Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin remarked that “NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security” and that Finland likewise would serve to “strengthen the entire defense alliance.” The two leaders called for application to NATO “without delay.”
The announcement unsurprisingly met with disapproval from the Kremlin. According to a statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry, “The Russian side repeatedly noted that the choice of ways to ensure its national security is up to Finland’s authorities and people. However, Helsinki should realize the responsibility and the consequences of such a move.” The statement went on to say that Finland’s membership to NATO will cause significant harm to bilateral relations and will meet with “retaliatory” measures in the form of “military-technical and of other nature.”
Turkey also voiced its opposition to Finland’s announcement late last week. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters, “We are following developments concerning Sweden and Finland, but we are not of a favorable opinion.” Erdogan cited the two nations’ support for Kurdish militants designated by Turkey as terrorist organizations. Comments made by the president’s top foreign policy advisor over the weekend suggested Turkey is not “closing the door” to Finland and Sweden’s membership. However, the decision to admit new nations to the alliance requires unanimous support from members.
While Finland and Sweden creep ever closer to NATO membership, and Russia responds in kind, the Pentagon last week announced plans to deploy additional troops to Europe. The Secretary of Defense ordered the deployment of approximately 10,500 troops to replace troops sent there earlier this year. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby made clear these troop movements will leave the overall posture in the region unchanged.
Russia’s belligerence in prolonging the war in Ukraine served not to intimidate Europe, but to rally the continent and its allies. Putin used NATO expansion as a pretext for his invasion, yet faces a stronger Allied presence and the likelihood of NATO right on its backdoor.