After nearly 73 years of remaining a neutral neighbour between Russia and the West, Finland is finally set to drop its military neutrality and join the NATO defence alliance against encroaching Russian aggression in Europe.
Following the Second World War, when Europe was being carved up between communist and capitalist power, the Soviet Union demanded that Finland refrain from joining NATO or engaging in the West’s foreign policy.
In exchange, the Soviets allowed Finland its independence as a neutral nation. This process, which later gave rise to the phrase Finlandization, ensured peace but effectively prevented Finland from full political independence.
An end to soft borders
Before the war in Ukraine, Russia proposed the Finlandization of Ukraine, assuring that Ukraine could remain completely independent, so long as it demilitarised and refrained from joining NATO.
With promises broken and shells now falling across Ukraine, even Finland has now rejected its own Finlandization. On 12 May, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin acquiesced to political pressure and officially endorsed Finland’s ascension to NATO. Finland is now expected to ask for full membership as early as next week.
This is a significant change in tune from Finland. Just before the war, Finnish officials described NATO membership as an unnecessary provocation against Moscow. Now, as Russia threatens Europe with nuclear arms and all-out war, the two leaders stated that “Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay.”
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Even Sweden, which has maintained its neutrality since the Napoleonic Wars, has witnessed a resurgence of interest in NATO membership, especially in the context of repeated violations of Swedish airspace by Russian military jets. Sweden will likely also apply for membership in the near future.
Russian authorities are already making threats against Finland and NATO partners. The same day as Finland stated its intention to join the alliance, Russia threatened “retaliatory steps, both of a military-technical and other nature.”
Russia views Finnish NATO membership as another threat to its borders. The nation originally framed its invasion of Ukraine around concerns of NATO expansion into the country. In his 9 May speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated it was necessary to prevent NATO invasion plans.
Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov, at a press conference on 12 May, said that Finland’s accession to NATO “certainly threatens Russia’s security, and will entail Russia elaborating measures to ensure its security.”
A cold front
Finland shares a 1,340 kilometre-long border with Russia in some of the coldest regions of Northern Europe. There are fears that Russia may try to escalate the conflict around Finland by moving nuclear-capable submarines into the Baltic Sea, in order to threaten surrounding NATO members.
For several years, both Finland and Russia have been scrambling to secure new arctic sea shipping lanes and access which have been made possible due to rapidly melting ice caused by global warming. Dubbed the “Polar Silk Road”, the arctic is filled with oil and gas resources that both Finland and Russia are eager to access.
Increased tensions in Europe will undoubtedly mean increased tensions over these precious northern resources, escalating tensions in the cold reaches of Europe.