4th Feb 2023

Finland unfazed by Kremlin threats on Nato membership

  • Finnish warplane takes part in Nato air-policing exercise over Baltic Sea in early April (Photo:
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Russian threats will not stop Finland joining Nato, a senior Finnish official has indicated, amid memories of its 'Winter War' with the Soviet Union.

"Finland is a sovereign state" and it will make decisions "based on real-time evaluation of our security environment," rather than Russian threats, Kai Sauer, Finland's under-secretary of state for foreign and security policy, told EUobserver on Tuesday (26 April).

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"This is the right of every sovereign nation," he added.

Sauer spoke after Finnish and Swedish press reported on Monday that the two countries will submit an application to join Nato in mid-May due to Russian aggression in Ukraine.

He also spoke after Russia earlier threatened to station nuclear weapons in the Baltic region if they went ahead.

Sauer declined to comment on the Nato application reports, but he indicated that the two Nordic countries were potential assets for the Western alliance.

"Generally speaking, Finland and Sweden are security providers instead of consumers," he said. They "project security and stability in their region," he added.

The renewed Russian threat has revived memories of when Finland last faced Soviet aggression — in the 1940s in the so-called Winter War.

"There are lessons [from the Winter War for modern times], such as [the possibility of a] smaller nation's survival depending on its righteous cause and national unity," Sauer said.

"But there are also differences: then, we were alone, today we have multiple partnerships," he noted.

"Our capabilities [today] — such as materiel, personnel, and general preparedness — are significant," Sauer said.

The Swedish foreign ministry declined to answer when asked if the reports were true of a joint Nato bid in May.

But a Nato official told EUobserver that if they did go ahead, their application could proceed "very quickly".

Both countries' armed forces already met Nato standards, on issues such as technical interoperability, information security, and democratic oversight, the official said. "There's not going to be a problem," he said.

If Helsinki and Stockholm signed so-called "letters of intent" in May, then Nato allies could begin national ratification procedures of their "accession protocols" immediately afterwards, and membership could follow in a matter of months after the summer parliamentary recesses.

"They would be covered by Article V [Nato's mutual defence clause] from the day of membership," the Nato official said.

Meanwhile, Jamie Shea, a former senior Nato official, echoed Sauer on the need to separate Russian rhetoric from reality.

"The alliance will need to keep its nerve and look for evidence of real Russian nuclear deployments or changes in force posture — as opposed to the Kremlin's bluster," he said.

Russia already had nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad and Russian nuclear-capable submarines and bombers had been violating Swedish waters and Finnish airspace long before the Kremlin made its latest threats, Shea said.

"Decades of living next door to the Soviet Union under [former presidents Nikita] Krushchev and [Leonid] Brezhnev did not persuade Finland and Sweden to abandon non-alignment and seek Nato membership; but [current Russian president Vladimr] Putin's recklessness has made them rethink their security needs," Shea, who now teaches strategy and security at the University of Exeter in the UK, said.

He also echoed Finland's Sauer in saying the two Nordic states would help Nato do its job.

"The Finns have five modern armoured brigades stationed along the [Russian] border and they are buying 50 US F35 aircraft. Finland can also mobilise significant reserves trained in winter warfare," Shea said.

"Sweden's island of Gottland [in the Baltic Sea] is a major strategic asset in terms of restricting Russia's access in and out of St Petersburg," Shea added.

And if the Nordic states joined Nato, then Russia would "need to divert substantial forces northwards" as a counterbalance, relieving existing pressure on Nato allies Poland and Romania, Shea said.

That aside, Nato's most vulnerable members — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — would also sleep safer if their Nordic neighbours joined, a diplomat from one of the three Baltic countries told EUobserver.

"The Finnish and Swedish decision to join would change a decades-long anomaly and would — obviously — make the people of the Baltic States feel much more secure," the diplomat said.

Finland shares a 1,300-km long land border with Russia — almost as long as Ukraine's 1,974-km border with its warmongering neighbour.

But Ukraine's performance in its "righteous" self-defence as well as Soviet memories of Finnish valour in the 1940s would likely make Putin's commanders think twice about any attack, Shea said.

"Russian generals may have gravely underestimated the Ukrainians' will to resist but they would not make the same mistake when it comes to Finland," he said.

Russia warns against Finland and Sweden Nato bid

Finland is expected to kick off a debate on the country's potential Nato membership. But Russia has clearly voiced opposition towards any potential enlargement of the western military alliance.

Finland moves to join Nato in historic step

Finnish public support for joining Nato has risen to record figures since Russia's aggression against Ukraine. Finland's historic move puts pressure on Sweden to also move towards joining the military alliance.

Finland builds momentum toward Nato bid

Finnish MPs have got the ball rolling on a week that's expected to culminate in a tectonic shift in Nordic security — Finland and Sweden's decision to apply for Nato membership.

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