Sauli Niinistö and Sanna Marin, President and Prime Minister of Finland, respectively, released a joint statement yesterday stating that their country "must apply for NATO membership without delay". That means that, once the corresponding procedures are completed, the formal request for admission could be processed next week. This momentous Finnish change of position is likely to prompt neighboring Sweden to make a similar decision. If this were the case, both countries, to date officially non-aligned, although linked to NATO since joining the EU, would become part of and reinforce the Atlantic Alliance, thus giving a key turn to their foreign policy, and altering the acrimonious relations between Russia and NATO. Sweden has been a neutral country for two hundred years, making this condition an identity feature. Finland has been since the end of the Second World War, when after being invaded by Russia and losing part of its territory, it agreed, more forced than willingly, to this status.
Just a few months ago, the percentage of Finns in favor of abandoning neutrality to embrace Atlanticism was a minority, it was stabilized around 25%. Since the beginning, on February 24, of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, public opinion has swung in Finland, a country with 1,300 kilometers of border with Russia. Now, up to 76% of Finns are in favor of joining NATO. The reason for this change of heart is simple: they used to believe that neutrality was the best way to ensure their security from Russia. Now, seeing what happened in Ukraine, they believe the opposite and knock on NATO's door. In Sweden, the percentages in favor of joining the Atlantic Alliance are not so high, but they are also the majority (around 57%). In any case, complete integration, including article 5 – the one that guarantees mutual defense in the event of aggression by a third party – would bring an important novelty to the European geostrategic board.
Yesterday's news is not to the liking of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was already bothered by the pro-European democratic movements in Ukraine, at the time of the Orange Revolution (2004-2005), and who usually considers the NATO affiliation of countries that once belonged to the Warsaw Pact, that have a direct border with Russia or that are close to it. Yesterday, Kremlin spokesmen described the Finnish statement as a threat to Russian security.
The Finnish statement certainly supports Putin's victimhood story. But it was predictable for weeks. The Russian president has made and is making a display of violence and cruelty in Ukraine that seemed unthinkable in this century and in Europe. The possibility that an unpredictable president like Putin expands his battlefield – Transnistria could be emerging as a new front in the war in Ukraine – has led to the movement of the Finnish authorities and, more importantly, the change of opinion of its citizens .
The Ukrainian shot – to limit NATO's proximity to its border – has backfired on Putin. Now new countries are seeking the NATO umbrella. It is not clear that Putin will retaliate military for it. He can threaten them and try to intimidate them immediately, yes, with troop deployments near their borders, with computer attacks and information poisoning. But he will hardly be able to convince the inhabitants of Finland or Sweden that it is preferable to live in the current Russian autocracy than in an advanced democracy like theirs.