- Finland and Sweden signalled they could move to join NATO in the near future, blaming Russia's war in Ukraine.
- This would mark a historic shift in policy for both countries.
- It would also enrage Russia, which has threatened both with "serious military and political" retaliation.
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Finland and Sweden on Wednesday offered the most concrete signs to date that they'll pursue NATO membership in the near future, despite Russia threatening both with "serious military and political" retaliation if they join the alliance.
At a joint press conference with her Swedish counterpart in Stockholm, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said, "Everything changed when Russia invaded Ukraine."
The mindsets of people in Finland and Sweden — countries in northern Europe that have long remained militarily unaligned — changed and were "shaped very dramatically because of Russia's actions," Marin said, adding, "This is very clear and that caused a need for a process in Finland to have a discussion about our own security choices."
"I won't give any kind of timetable when we will make our decisions, but I think it will happen quite fast. Within weeks, not within months," Marin said.
Similarly, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said there was "no point" in delaying an analysis on Sweden possibly joining NATO.
"This is a very important time in history. There is a before and after the 24th of February. The security landscape has completely changed," Andersson said, adding, "Given this situation we have to really think through what is best for Sweden and our security and our peace in this new situation."
Finland's government on Wednesday released a security assessment that's set to be debated by lawmakers. The report concluded that adding Finland and Sweden to NATO would boost regional security. Finland shares a long border with Russia, and similar to Ukraine would likely be left to fight a Russian attack without the full force of NATO.
Andersson said that Sweden was engaged in a similar process regarding discussions on joining NATO, with the Swedish government set to release a security analysis report by the end of May.
"We have to analyse the situation to see what is best for Sweden's security for the Swedish people in this new situation. And you shouldn't rush into that, you should make it very seriously," Andersson said, saying there were pros and cons of joining NATO.
Joining NATO would extend the 30-member alliance's protection to Finland and Sweden. NATO operates under the principle of collective defense, considering an attack on one member an attack on all, which is enshrined in Article 5 of its founding treaty. But such moves would also enrage the Kremlin, while requiring Finland and Sweden to come to the defense of other NATO members in the event of an attack.
If the two Nordic countries became part of NATO, it would mark a historic change in policy for both.
During the Cold War, Sweden and Finland remained neutral. The Finns and Russians have gone to war in the past, including during World War II. Finland, which shares an 830-mile border with Russia, sought to avoid similar conflicts in the decades following the war by remaining militarily non-aligned and giving Moscow outsised influence, a curtailed statehood experts labeled "Finlandization." And Sweden hasn't been involved in a war for 200 years.
Both countries became NATO partner countries following the collapse of the Soviet Union, but up until recently showed no desire to pursue full membership. Russia's invasion of Ukraine has catalysed a rapid shift in their positions on the issue, in one of many signs that Russian President Vladimir Putin's war there has backfired.
Putin has for years complained about NATO's eastward expansion post-Cold War, and he has highlighted those issues in attempts to justify his full-scale attack on Ukraine.
Moscow has demanded that Ukraine never be permitted to join NATO. Though the alliance has rejected this demand, Ukraine in negotiations with Russia has offered to adopt neutral status if it means an end to the war. But Putin on Tuesday said the talks had hit a "dead end," as per the New York Times, adding that the Russian "military operation will continue until its full completion."