Putin will be angry Finland has joined Nato – but he can only blame himself

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RRussian President Vladimir Putin will not be happy if Finland becomes the 31st member of NATO. The date is significant – 4 April – which marks the anniversary of the signing of the NATO treaty 74 years ago.

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Yet Putin has only himself to blame for this most significant expansion of the Western alliance in some time.

Before Putin invaded Ukraine last year, barely 30 percent of Finns wanted their country to join NATO. Finland was largely comfortable with the dense network of security partnerships it had built up since the end of the Cold War: close cooperation with NATO, participation in the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy, and cooperation with its neighbors Sweden and others. Military integration with the Nordic countries. partners.

Yet public support for joining NATO rose to nearly 80 percent overnight, and has remained there ever since. NATO membership did not feature as an issue in last weekend’s Finnish elections, despite a wide spectrum of parties participating. So, what’s changed? Essentially two things.

First, Finnish security policy since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 has been predicated on the assumption that Russia would accept the new system of borders and states that emerged from that collapse. Yet in annexing Crimea in 2014, and now seeking to annex more areas of Ukraine’s territory, Putin has made it clear that all borders that were once part of the tsarist or Soviet system are open to revision. This has deeply unsettled Finns, who believed they had a predictable but fragile relationship with Moscow.

Second, Putin’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, as well as support for separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and this current war, have shown Finns that close partnership with NATO does not provide immediate NATO response or security. Only full membership and collective defense obligations under Article 5 of the NATO treaty can do this. The EU has a solidarity clause, and is increasing its cooperation on defense issues. Yet only NATO has the forward-deployed troops, command structures, and reinforcement plans to actually implement collective defense. Since Finland suddenly needed to upgrade its defense, NATO was the only viable option.

Both sides would benefit from Finland’s membership of NATO. NATO will get a capable military actor with seven armored brigades, one of the best reserve forces in the alliance and modern weapons like artillery, Leopard 2A6 tanks and soon US F35 fighter aircraft. With a border with Russia, the Finns never stopped taking their collective defense seriously, even as the rest of Europe reaped the post-Cold War peace dividends.

Of course, the sudden doubling of NATO’s borders with Russia as Finland takes its seat on the North Atlantic Council will give NATO a considerable additional security burden. Yet Putin knows that even if he has threatened unspecified retaliatory measures against Helsinki, taking thousands of troops away from Ukraine and keeping them on the Finnish border will not help him win against Kiev. In addition, Finland is not currently seeking to deploy a large number of NATO troops on its territory, which would give Putin a reason to act.

Finland joining NATO would be a bitter sweet occasion for both NATO and Helsinki, given that both were expecting Sweden to join at the same time. Türkiye and Hungary are still seeking parliamentary ratification of Swedish membership.

Yet Finland’s membership is probably of more immediate strategic importance to NATO, given that it would give the allies greater access to the Baltic Sea and the ability to reinforce the Baltic states and Poland. Turkey will also move on Sweden after Turkey’s election on May 14 to make Stockholm hopeful of joining NATO at their next summit in Vilnius in July. For the time being at least, Stockholm will remain sandwiched comfortably between NATO member states.

Jamie Shea is an associate fellow in the International Security Program at Chatham House. He is a former NATO officer and is now Professor of Strategy and Security at the University of Exeter

Putin will be angry Finland has joined Nato – but he can only blame himself

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