HELSINKI (AP) — European Union nations Finland and Sweden hit major milestones on their path to possible NATO membership on Wednesday as the Finnish government released a security report to lawmakers and that Sweden’s ruling party has launched a review of security policy options.
Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine sparked a wave of support for NATO membership in the two traditionally militarily non-aligned Nordic countries, with polls showing a majority willing to join the alliance in Finland and NATO supporters in Sweden clearly outnumber those against the idea.
Finland, a country of 5.5 million people, shares the EU’s longest border with Russia, a border of 1,340 kilometers (833 miles). Sweden has no border with Russia.
Russia, for its part, has warned Sweden and Finland against joining NATO, with officials saying it would not help stability in Europe. Officials said Russia would react to such a move with retaliatory measures that would have “military and political consequences” for Helsinki and Stockholm. One of the reasons Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine was that the country refused to promise that it would not join NATO.
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, speaking in Stockholm on Wednesday at a joint press conference with her Swedish counterpart Magdalena Andersson, said Finland was ready to make a decision on NATO “within weeks” rather than within months after extensive debate in the 200-seat Eduskunta legislature. .
Marin stressed that Finland and Sweden, two neighboring Nordic countries with close economic, political and military ties, will make independent decisions regarding their security policy arrangements, including NATO membership.
“But we do this with the clear knowledge that our choices will affect not only ourselves, but also our neighbours,” Marin said, adding that she would prefer to see Finland and Sweden become members of NATO.
Andersson said Sweden and Finland would maintain “a very close dialogue and have very direct and honest discussions” in the coming weeks about their countries’ respective choices on NATO.
The only real option for NATO membership could be enhanced bilateral military cooperation with the United States and NATO’s Nordic member Norway, Finnish experts have said.
Marin and Andersson lead the ruling social democratic parties in their respective countries. The parties are expected to announce their views on NATO in early and late May, respectively. The parliaments of both countries are ready to finally decide the question – which could happen in Finland at the end of May and a little later in Sweden.
Complicating matters in Sweden is the September general election, which is likely to be dominated by the NATO issue.
In Finland, President Sauli Niinisto expressed confidence that his country’s decision on NATO will be ready well before the June 29-30 NATO summit in Madrid, Spain.
On Wednesday, the Finnish government released a long-awaited report on changes in Finland’s security environment, which lawmakers will begin debating after the Easter break. The report discusses the pros and cons of Finland’s possible NATO membership, focusing on supply threats, economic effects, cybersecurity and hybrid threats.
“The war started by Russia endangers the security and stability of all of Europe,” Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said when presenting the report. “Russia’s attack on Ukraine will have a lasting impact on our own security environment. Trust in Russia has collapsed.
Andersson said on Wednesday that the Swedish government was working on an analysis of the security environment with all parties in the Riksdag legislature, which has 349 seats. She said the report is due May 31 but could be completed sooner. In addition, Andersson’s Social Democratic Party has launched its own separate review of Sweden’s security environment.