It could be quick now. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto wants to clarify his position on NATO by May 12. He is expected in Sweden on May 17. There he met King Carl XVI Gustaf. There are growing indications that the two countries will announce that they will apply for NATO membership that day.
For Sweden in particular, non-alignment has been part of the national identity for 200 years. Breaking with her marks a turning point for the Social Democrats in power around Magdalena Andersson, just as Chancellor Olaf Scholz does for the SPD.
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Ironically, the war of aggression and conquest ordered by Vladimir Putin, which would also be directed against NATO’s eastward expansion, should now result in a northward expansion with an additional border of 1300 kilometers. This is why Russia has been threatening for weeks with “massive consequences”. But Sweden and the Finns are not impressed.
Membership approval skyrocketed
Russia’s war radically changed the mood in both countries. Prior to the invasion, approval for NATO membership was a maximum of 30%. A clear majority is now in favour. The most important is in Finland, which has a sort of pioneering role in this area. “We will only participate if Finland leads the way”, has long been the motto in Sweden. However, surrounded by NATO countries Denmark, Norway and then possibly Finland, further insistence on non-alignment would have become pointless for Sweden.
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Last Friday, a Russian propeller plane reportedly entered Swedish and Danish airspace. In early March, four Russian fighter jets violated Swedish airspace. What Moscow probably wants to say as a deterrent may have increased distrust and willingness to join the Western Defense Alliance.
Their arms are wide open. Joint military exercises have been taking place for many years and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has promised rapid accession negotiations. At the Madrid summit at the end of June, the request from Sweden and Finland could be a priority for the 30 NATO countries.
It will still be some time before full membership, which guarantees support under Article 5, but Stoltenberg wants to strike separate deals for the transition period. The geostrategic importance of NATO membership for Sweden and Finland can hardly be overstated. If all of Scandinavia were part of the alliance, the Baltic States would also feel much safer.