Now Sweden will apply for NATO membership as Finland opens debate

Now Sweden will apply for NATO membership as Scandinavian neighbour Finland opens debate on joining security alliance

  • Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson thought to be eager to join NATO
  • Comes after Finland said it would open a debate on joining the security alliance
  • Russia’s war on Ukraine sparked a U-turn on public opinion against joining NATO 

Sweden could be about to apply for NATO members after its Scandinavian neighbour Finland said it would open a debate on joining the security alliance. 

Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson is understood to be eager for the country to join the trans-Atlantic alliance by June this year.

Finland’s foreign ministry said a government-commissioned report released today that examines the ‘fundamentally changed’ security environment will now make its way through parliament. 

An opening debate is planned for a week later and is expected to analyse different security options for Finland, which shares a 830mile (1,340km) border with Russia.  

The assault on Ukraine sparked a dramatic U-turn in public and political opinion in Finland and neighbouring Sweden regarding their long-held policies of military non-alignment.

Attempting to join NATO would almost certainly be seen as a provocation by Moscow, for whom the alliance’s expansion on its borders has been a prime security grievance.

Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson (pictured with European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on April 7) is understood to be eager for the country to join the trans-Atlantic alliance by June this year

Former prime minister and long-time NATO advocate Alexander Stubb has said he believes Finland making a membership application is ‘a foregone conclusion’.

Finland has a long history with Russia. In 1917 it declared independence after 150 years of Russian rule.

During World War II, its vastly outnumbered army fought off a Soviet invasion, before a peace deal saw it cede several border areas to the Soviet Union.

During the Cold War, Finland remained neutral in exchange for guarantees from Moscow that it would not invade. 

So the turnaround in sentiment on NATO would have been unthinkable just a few months ago.

As recently as January, Prime Minister Sanna Marin said membership was ‘very unlikely’ during her term.

But after two decades of public support for membership remaining steady at 20-30 per cent, the war caused a surge in those in favour to over 60 per cent, multiple polls showed.

Public statements gathered by newspaper Helsingin Sanomat suggest half of Finland’s 200 MPs now support membership while only 12 oppose.

Others say they will announce a position after detailed discussions.

The government said it hopes to build a parliamentary consensus over the coming weeks, with MPs due to hear from a number of security experts.

Marin expects a decision ‘before midsummer’, with many analysts predicting Finland could submit a bid in time for a NATO summit in June.

Any membership bid must be accepted by all 30 NATO states, a process that could take four months to a year.

Former prime minister and long-time NATO advocate Alexander Stubb (pictured) has said he believes Finland making a membership application is ‘a foregone conclusion’ 

Russia has threatened a similar response to Finland as the horrors seen in Ukraine if it seeks to join NATO

A view of a residential building destroyed as a result of shellfire in Ukraine, which Russia has threatened on Finland

Finland has so far received public assurances from secretary general Jens Stoltenberg that NATO’s door remains open, and several members’ support.   

Unlike Finland, Sweden shares no land border with Russia and the two countries have not been at war for two centuries.

Nonetheless, pro-NATO sentiment is also rising among Swedes who ‘are realising that they might find themselves in the same position as Ukraine, a lot of sympathy but no military help,’ said Robert Dalsjo, research director at the Swedish Defence Research Agency.

Many commentators expect Sweden and Finland will act in tandem on whether to join, but their leaders stressed they may reach differing decisions.

Sweden’s ruling party this week announced a review of its long-held opposition to joining NATO.

‘For the Social Democrats in Sweden to change opinion [on NATO] is like changing religion,’ former Finnish PM Alexander Stubb said. ‘And I’m not talking Protestant to Catholic, I’m talking Christian to Muslim.’

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned Russia would take measures to ‘rebalance the situation’ in the event of Finland joining.

Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto said Russia’s response could include airspace, territorial violations and hybrid attacks, which Finnish NATO proponents believe the country is well prepared to withstand.

‘Russia will most certainly huff and puff,’ Dalsjo said, but added: ‘I don’t think they will do anything violent.

‘However, in the mood that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is right now, I wouldn’t rule it out entirely.’

When Russia last tried to seize Finland… and failed 

More than 80 years ago, the small Finland took on the might of the Soviet Union when dictator Joseph Stalin ordered an invasion after its government refused to give up substantial territory.

The Winter War of 1939-1940 – which began less than three months after the start of the Second World War – saw Finland’s forces use innovative tactics to defy Russia’s hopes for a quick, emphatic victory that could have landed Stalin control of the whole country.

Instead, Soviet troops – who numbered around one million – were fiercely resisted for nearly three months, with dramatic photos showing how vehicles and equipment had to be abandoned in the face of the opposition and freezing conditions.

In that time, Russia suffered more than 300,000 casualties – including 126,900 deaths – and lost up to 3,500 tanks and around 500 aircraft.

By comparison, Finland lost 25,900 men out of an original force of around 300,000.

Stories of Finnish heroics include that of a Finnish farmer who became the deadliest sniper in history after killing 505 Soviet troops.

In the fighting, Finland also pioneered the use of the improvised grenade the Molotov cocktail, which was named after the Soviet Union’s foreign minister.

Ultimately however, the sheer numerical superiority of the Soviet Union’s forces took its toll and Finland’s government was eventually forced to sign a peace agreement that forced them to give up around ten per cent of their territory.

Despite the defeat, Finland emerged with its sovereignty intact and its international reputation enhanced, whilst the Soviet Union was kicked out of the League of Nations and was condemned by other world leaders for the illegal invasion.

Finnish sniper Simo Häyhä emerged a hero after racking up the most sniper kills in the history of warfare.

Aged 33 when the war broke out, Häyhä quickly acquired a fearsome reputation, striking the enemy unseen and unheard from hidden positions up to 300 yards from his target.

Nicknamed The White Death, Häyhä was a prime target for the Soviets, who targeted him with mortars and heavy artillery to halt his killing spree, which once claimed 25 men in one day.

Finland then allied with Nazi Germany against the Soviets in what was known as the Continuation War in 1941, with Helsinki trying to retake its lost territories.

After a ceasefire was agreed in the Moscow Armistice in 1944, Finland was ordered to expel Nazi troops stationed in the country, prompting the Lapland War with Germany.

At the Paris Peace Treaty, Finland was classified as an ally with Nazi Germany and ordered to pay reparations.

The country then pursued a policy of neutrality, maintaining a free market economy and democracy despite enjoying a strong relationship with the Soviet Union. 

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