Finland, Sweden near NATO membership decision – POLITICO

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Finland and Sweden are rushing towards a decision to join NATO as Russia’s war in Ukraine fuels security fears across the region.

Opinion polls show increasing public support in both countries for abandoning their longstanding neutrality and joining the military alliance. There is growing momentum among politicians to submit applications for membership as early as June, when NATO leaders hold a summit in Madrid.

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Wednesday that her country would apply for NATO membership in “weeks rather than months”.

At a joint press conference with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, Marin made the announcement as the Finnish government submitted report to Parliament on changes in the security environment and formally launch a debate on NATO membership.

“The security situation in Europe and in Finland is more serious and more difficult to predict than at any time since the Cold War,” the government said in its report.

“The change in the security situation,” according to the Finnish authorities, “is likely to be long-lasting,” while “Russia’s demands and military actions, which purport to change the European security architecture, also affect Finland’s room for maneuver in the areas of foreign, security and defense policy”.

Reports in Swedish media this week recommended that both the Marin and Andersson governments support NATO membership. But at their press conference in Stockholm on Wednesday, the two leaders refused to address the substance of the speculation directly. Instead, they emphasized that thorough analysis is required before making a decision.

Andersson said the process “should not be rushed” but also saw “no point in delaying” – particularly given that Sweden is due to hold elections in September. A report analyzing Sweden’s security options is due to be submitted to lawmakers in Stockholm by the end of May, but could be completed earlier, Andersson said.

The Finnish report contained no specific policy recommendations, but outlined both the benefits and risks of NATO membership.

“The deterrent effect of Finnish defenses would be significantly stronger than at present, as it would rely on the capabilities of the entire alliance,” the report says. It also stated that “if Finland were a NATO member and became a target of military force, it would defend itself with the support of the Alliance on the basis of pre-prepared and tested collective defense arrangements”.

Still, the report warned: “Should Finland apply for NATO membership, it should brace itself for major influence efforts and hard-to-predict risks, such as rising tensions on the Finland-Russia border.”

In a sign of what could be coming, several government websites sank during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s address to the Finnish Parliament last week, while Russian planes have been violating both Swedish and Finnish airspace in recent weeks.

Russia calls for a rethink

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told reporters on Wednesday there were three reasons why the NATO debate has arisen now: “Russia is willing to take higher risks than it used to,” the Kremlin “is capable of deploying more than 100,000 troops at a time.” place against a country” and there are more “loose arguments about unconventional weapons, including tactical nuclear weapons and chemical weapons”.

NATO officials said Finland and Sweden would be welcomed with open arms and that the two countries’ integration into the alliance was a smooth process.

“Finland and Sweden must decide whether or not to apply for membership and we will respect that decision,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters last week.

“If they decide to apply, I expect that all allies will welcome them,” he said, adding, “We have been working together for many years and we know that they meet NATO standards in terms of interoperability and democratic… Control of weapons imbue powers. We know that if they decide to apply, they can easily join this alliance.”

The prospect of two more of its western neighbors joining NATO has drawn warnings from Moscow. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called last week that Russia would have to “rebalance” the situation with its own measures if Sweden and Finland took such a step.

This has raised questions among officials about what kind of security guarantees candidate countries might receive in the period between submitting their application and formal membership.

“The timing of possible accession and the speed of the accession process,” says the Finnish report, “are of particular importance in the current situation.”

Accession talks first require a unanimous decision by NATO members and a ratification process in allied capitals — a process that has historically taken more than a year.

Stoltenberg said last week he was “sure we will find ways to address any concerns you may have about the timeframe between potential application and final ratification.”

When asked about possible security guarantees during the application period, Finnish Minister Haavisto said he had discussed the application process with NATO allies.

The “grey area — that after you apply … before you’re actually a member of NATO — should be as short as possible,” Haavisto said. Finland, Sweden near NATO membership decision - POLITICO

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