WASHINGTON (TND) — NATO could gain two more members when Sweden and Finland make a final decision on whether to join the defensive alliance.
Adding two countries so close to Russia’s border would be a setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has publicly fought against NATO’s expansion. The potential addition of Finland’s roughly 800-mile border with Russia would expand NATO’s reach and help its defensive posture.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced European countries to reevaluate their defense systems and postures on military alliances. NATO members and President Joe Biden have embraced closer relationships and said Putin’s objective of tearing Western democracies apart has failed.
“I’m confident Putin believed that he could break up NATO,” Biden said at a Democratic fundraising event Monday. “I'm confident he believed he could break up the European Union, that we couldn't hold it together. But we're doing it.”
Part of Putin’s original justification for invading Ukraine was the expansion of the alliance and the possibility for Ukraine to join it.
“It sends a very powerful signal to Russia that countries that were previously non-aligned are feeling threatened and want to join NATO,” said Dr. Nancy Gallagher, director of the Center for International Security Studies at the University of Maryland. “Since one of his major objections was NATO expansion, it essentially shows that attacking Ukraine has had the exact opposite effect of what he most wanted.”
Finland and Sweden have been resistant to joining defensive alliances in the past and have instead focused on being self-reliant. The annexation in Crimea in 2014 led to some discussions for the pair to join NATO but the war in Ukraine blasted that debate into the mainstream.
Both have played roles in deescalating conflicts to help work out stability and security arrangements in Europe.
While both countries have maintained military independence, both are close allies with many NATO nations and have conducted joint exercises.
“From a standpoint of NATO as a defensive alliance, they are a net plus. They're also solid democracies,” Gallagher said. “They have lots of close relations with the other members of NATO, so I definitely see it as a net plus for the alliance.”
Some experts and analysts say the loss of neutral arbiters in Europe could create some issues for the future stability of the region.
Russia has been defensive of the addition of Finland and Sweden, and even threatened military repercussions if they were to join.
Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s security council, said last month that Russia would move to strengthen its defenses and “there can be no more talk of any nuclear-free status” in the Baltic region.
Analysts are skeptical Russia’s military can be sent to the area due to its prolonged struggle with Ukraine. The war has lasted much longer and been more lethal than the Kremlin anticipated.
Finland’s long border with Russia would give the Kremlin more to consider when it comes to military planning and could prevent it from going on the offensive like it did with Ukraine.
“It further complicates Putin's defense planning and his military’s defense planning. I don't see NATO as having offensive ambitions, but Putin does so he's going to be more worried that there's yet another border that he needs to defend, so that just complicates his feeling of being encircled, his feeling of being trapped,” Gallagher said. “It’s something that I think some European countries had been more sensitive to in the past — rightfully so but it's hard to be particularly sympathetic at the moment.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki also dismissed Putin’s complaints about “Western aggression” as absurd.
“The suggestion that this war that was prompted by — directed by President Putin was prompted by Western aggression or Western plans is patently false and absurd,” Psaki said Monday.
When the Finnish and Swedish governments make a final decision, it will have to ratified by all 30 members of NATO. That process is usually a monthslong affair, but a NATO official reportedly said it could be done in a couple weeks.