Currently, the Finns are not a member of the Alliance. During the Cold War, they officially declared their neutrality and were heavily influenced by the USSR. Today, this influence no longer exists, but the neutrality has remained. Should Finns become members of the Alliance, it would mean a very serious strategic change in northern Europe. Especially since if Finland decided to take such a step, a similar one from Sweden would not be ruled out.
For Russia, such a change in its poorly defended northern borders would be a huge problem. That is why the Kremlin responded to the New Year’s declarations by Finnish politicians. – The accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO would have serious military and political consequences that would require an appropriate response from Russia – said the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
There is no revolution, but there is evolution
The exchange of views between Helsinki and Moscow triggered a number of comments and reactions in the media, including Polish. Much to suggest that Finland may “quickly” join NATO if Russia invades Ukraine. Meanwhile, the matter is not that simple. – Despite many far-reaching interpretations and press titles, neither the president nor the prime minister said anything that would go beyond the official position of Finland so far – says Gazeta.pl Piotr Szymański, an expert of the Center for Eastern Studies.
The specialist reminds that leaving the gate open to joining the Alliance is one of the pillars of Finnish security policy, expressed in subsequent official strategies since at least 2004, and discussed since the 1990s. maneuver “.
– I would like to emphasize it again: Finnish freedom of maneuver and freedom of choice also mean the possibility of applying for membership in NATO, if we ourselves deem it appropriate – said President Sauli Niinisto in his New Year’s speech. – Each country is free to decide about its security policy. We have shown that we learn from the past. We will not give up our freedom of maneuver, said Prime Minister Sanna Marin a little later.
Although the speeches of both politicians did not really contain groundbreaking content, they were not without significance at the same time. It is no coincidence that the topic of security was so clearly and unanimously emphasized by them and, as Szymański says, they certainly did not do it without agreement. – There is no doubt that from the beginning of December, an unprecedented discussion on security and potential NATO membership has been taking place in Finland, says the OSW expert.
A sinister example of Ukraine
Of course, the discussion was initiated by the Russians with their actions. By putting pressure on Ukraine and making far-reaching, virtually unrealistic demands on the US and NATO. Among other things, expecting a written guarantee that the Alliance will not accept former USSR states, especially Ukraine, to its group. In addition, NATO would limit the stationing of its forces in the eastern member states bordering Russia.
– The source of the greatest concern among the Finns is that the Kremlin is attacking NATO’s open door policy at the moment – says Szymański. So far, the Russians have not mentioned Finland in this context, but in principle it is also a neutral country bordering Russia, located on the eastern fringes of the Alliance. Just like Ukraine, although of course there are many differences. However, this does not reassure the Finns for whom the fate of the Ukrainians is an ominous example.
The Finnish military is small and would be overwhelmed in direct confrontation with Russia. We described the Finns’ ideas for defense in more detail on the occasion of the publication of a propaganda film by the Finnish Ministry of Defense, showing the first hours of a simulated war with Russia.
– After Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in 2014, the Finns also started discussing their membership in NATO. At first I thought it might be something serious, but the topic died down pretty quickly. The only effect was closer military cooperation with the Alliance, as well as Sweden, Norway and the USA, says Szymański. The fate of Ukraine has hardened the convictions of both sides of the dispute. NATO supporters take this as an example of what awaits a weaker neutral state bordering Russia. Opponents as an example of what an attempt to strengthen relations with the West and irritation of the Kremlin may lead to.
According to the polls carried out every year at the request of the Finnish Ministry of Defense, there are clearly more opponents of accession to NATO. That’s about half the population. About 20-25 percent are in favor of accession. The rest do not have an opinion. As Szymański says, this state of affairs has not changed significantly for years, although one can see an outflow from the group of opponents to the undecided. The left and the center are the most important anti-accession political parties. The right wing is for. The OSW expert points out, however, that Finnish democracy works in such a way that serious decisions on security issues are made in accordance with the principle of consensuality. So all key groups would have to agree to a possible accession to NATO.
– Interestingly, ferment has started within individual parties. For example, in the opposing centrist party, the head of the party expressed a negative opinion about membership, but it was immediately criticized by some members of her party who expressed a different opinion – describes Szymański.
Russia itself is pushing Finns towards NATO
The OSW expert believes that Finnish politicians and the public are in a clinch when it comes to joining NATO. – The former are afraid to raise the subject, because most Finns are against membership. Meanwhile, most Finns are on because politicians have not wanted a public debate on NATO for years. If they had done so, taking into account the great trust of the Finns in politicians and the state, their opinion about NATO could change quickly and significantly – says Szymański.
The most motivating motivation for Finns to join would be if such a decision was taken by their most important neighbors, the Swedes. – The Finns would not like to be left alone as a buffer between Russia and the Alliance. However, in Sweden this issue has not been debated vigorously lately – says Szymański.
Last year, we described the Swedish security policy in more detail and what Poland could learn from it.
According to the OSW expert, there is some potential for long-term changes in Finland. – The current discussion is much more mature than the previous ones and it seems to me that it will not go away as quickly as the one after 2014. Although we are really at the very beginning and I would not expect any immediate breakthroughs – says Szymański. Much depends on what happens next in Ukraine.