Two countries are slated to apply to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, in a blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s geopolitical position.
The (London) Times quoted U.S. officials who indicated that Finland and Sweden would apply to join the alliance this summer. The officials said that discussions regarding membership have accelerated with their Finnish and Swedish counterparts since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
They expected that Finland would apply to join in June, and Sweden soon after.
“How can this be anything but a massive strategic blunder for Putin?” one senior American official said of the development.
A significant expansion of NATO would amount to a reversal of Putin’s goals for the “special military operation” targeting Ukraine.
The entry of Finland and Sweden into the western alliance would seriously expand Russia’s border with NATO member states, an issue that Russia has protested for years.
NATO member states Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia currently border mainland Russia. Poland borders the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said her country had no choice but to consider NATO membership in the light of the greatest conflict in Europe since World War II.
“Russia is not the neighbor we thought it was,” Marin said this weekend.
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Sweden’s government was conducting an internal national security review.
“I do not exclude NATO membership in any way,” Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said.
New polling shows 61 percent of Finns supported their country’s membership in NATO, according to The Economist. Finland spends just under 2 percent of its annual GDP on its military, the standard required for NATO member states, according to government documents.
Finland resisted Soviet occupation in the 1940 Winter War, overcoming a far larger and well-armed enemy.
Russia has often invoked NATO expansion to justify its invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin has demanded that Ukraine permanently pledge to refrain from NATO membership in negotiations to end the conflict.
Member states of the powerful military alliance insist that the alliance is merely defensive. NATO member states are obligated by treaty to defend one another.
NATO is an intergovernmental military alliance of 30 countries in Europe and North America. It was founded in 1949, in the aftermath of World War II.
NATO’s Article 5 of collective defense was invoked for the first time after the 9/11 attacks, with the United States’ NATO allies contributing to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.