The war in Ukraine pushes Sweden and Finland towards NATO

The war in Ukraine created an electric shock. 53% of Finns and 51% of Swedes now want to join NATO, according to two recent polls. A historic turning point in both countries. A few weeks ago, only 37% of Swedes and 28% of Finns were in favor of it.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine changed the game. We are small countries, close to a very aggressive Russia, which has nuclear weapons​, recalls Anna Wieslander, Northern Europe director of the think tank Atlantic Council. However, Sweden and Finland are among the rare countries of the European Union not to be members of the Atlantic Alliance. Even if we cooperate closely with NATO, there is an awareness that we do not have the same guarantees of protection [que les membres]. We feel vulnerable like never before.

A tradition of non-alignment

At the time of the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the number of supporters of NATO membership had already increased in Sweden, but to a lesser extent. Officially, the two Nordic countries are non-aligned, ie they do not belong to any military alliance. They are nevertheless partners of NATO, take part in regular military exercises and in peacekeeping operations. At the start of the offensive in Ukraine, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson stressed that this non-alignment had so far well served the interests of Sweden​, the country having known no war for two centuries.

For the time being, there is no parliamentary majority in favor of membership, neither in Sweden nor in Finland. But in the press, the platforms are multiplying, and certain parties traditionally against are putting the subject back on the table. If the shift in public opinion is as deep as it looks, if it persists over time and the situation continues to worsen in Ukraine, this could lead political parties to reassess their position.​, says Kjell Engelbrekt, professor of political science at the University of Defense in Stockholm.

Sweden and Finland hand in hand

In Finland, which shares a 1,300 km border with Russia, the concern is even greater. In Finnish eyes, the war in Ukraine is a European 9/11, and that will clearly have long-term implications.​, says Mika Aaltola, director of the Finnish Institute of International Relations. The objective is to block the escalation of the conflict and to have means of deterrence, but you also have to be careful. Coordination between Sweden and Finland is extremely important.

On Saturday March 5, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin and her Swedish counterpart announced that they were strengthening collaboration between their two countries. According to the Finnish daily Iltalehtithe two governments would reflect on the status ofmajor non-NATO ally​, to strengthen military cooperation with the United States. From there to take the leap of membership? The debate is open, more than ever.

The war in Ukraine pushes Sweden and Finland towards NATO

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