Are Sweden and Finland against joining NATO? It’s not that simple
Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text
On January 17, it became known that the Swedish Ministry of Defense had strengthened its military presence on the island of Gotland. Local residents, of whom there are about 54 thousand people, according to reports, said that they had never seen such a number of people in uniform.
As stated in the press service of the Swedish army, from the mainland of the country “several additional units have been transferred to the island of Gotland. We have placed two tanks in the northeast. They arrived by ferry. We have also moved several army armored vehicles. Military personnel are arriving on the island.”
At the same time, the ministry added that such a transfer “guarantees the safety of local residents.” Interestingly, against this background, local media published articles about the threat posed by Russia. However, the inhabitants of the island say that it is the transfer of troops that causes them much more concern.
It is worth noting here that this is not the first such case.
For example, after the Swedish military withdrew its soldiers from the island of Gotland in 2005, 150 soldiers were again stationed there in 2016. Then such actions were associated with nothing less than the events in the Crimea and the Donbas.
Returning to the January events, we add that Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist said: “The Armed Forces are taking the necessary measures to protect the integrity of the country and demonstrate our ability to defend Sweden and Swedish interests.” At the same time, he noted that Stockholm was forced to take such a step after three Russian amphibious ships “sailed into the Baltic Sea, crossing the Great Belt [Strait] in Denmark, amid heightened tensions between Russia and NATO member states.”
In addition, a number of media outlets also reported that unknown “military” drones flew near three Swedish nuclear power plants in Ringhals, Forsmark and Oskarhamn on January 17. Despite the fact that the investigation has only just begun, and the perpetrators are not named, the American analytical center IHS Global Insight also notes this fact as a probable reason for the transfer of troops to Gotland.
Experts note that Stockholm’s reaction reflects the general deterioration of the security situation. At the same time, according to the Americans, the current situation may revive the debate about Sweden’s membership in NATO.
It should be noted here that although the country’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has stated that Sweden does not intend to change its foreign policy and join the North Atlantic Alliance, on the contrary, in the parliament of the Scandinavian state, the majority supports the idea of joining NATO as an option to ensure the security of the state. They are restrained only by the Social Democrats who have a majority (28.3%).
Anyway, the Swedish military, as well as the entire defense policy of the country, have long been counting only on the fact that in the event of a conflict, it is NATO that will come to the rescue.
Before the beginning of the aggravation in relations between Russia and the United States, this scheme worked perfectly. The largest parties in Sweden sought consensus on defense and foreign policy issues, while the military regularly participated in exercises of the North Atlantic Alliance.
However, today, according to Global Insight, this policy may change. At the same time, if we discard the theses about the “probable invasion of Ukraine by Russia”, which frighten all Europeans, there are more weighty arguments.
No agreements were reached against the background of Russia’s negotiations with the United States and NATO, but the very fact that they took place creates certain risks for those states that have not yet joined the alliance, but would like to. So, if Washington agrees to Moscow’s demands on the issue of preventing further expansion of NATO to the East, which seems extremely unlikely to us, then neither Sweden nor Finland will likely be able to join it. This, according to American analysts, creates a false sense of haste and a closing window of opportunity. Especially for those political forces that are in favor of joining the alliance within Sweden.
Of course, no one will urgently apply to NATO today, however, it is safe to predict that membership in the alliance will be a key issue in the general elections scheduled for September 2022 in Sweden. And in the event that any pro-NATO party wins, the opinion and position of the Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Sweden will no longer matter.
Finland also officially declares that the country does not intend to join NATO. Nevertheless, he regularly participates in the exercises of the alliance. For example, in 2022, Cold Response 2022 (“Cold Response 2022”) exercises are scheduled for March-April, which will take place on the territory of Norway and the Norwegian Sea. They should be the largest in the region since the end of the Cold War. It is expected that about 40,000 troops from 40 member states of the alliance will take part in the maneuvers, as well as a large number of equipment, both ground and air, two aircraft carrier groups with the American aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman and the British HMS Prince of Wales. In addition, four US Air Force B-1B Lancer strategic supersonic bombers will be involved in the exercises, each of which is capable of carrying 24 AGM-158 JASSM cruise missiles with a flight range of up to 360 kilometers and up to 980 kilometers in the JASSM-ER modification.
Analysts of the British Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) believe that although Finland’s accession to NATO remains unlikely, Helsinki is systematically deepening its relations with the bloc.
In turn, the experts of the analytical division of the Fitch rating agency in their country review for the first quarter of 2022 also note that Finland will not apply for NATO membership in the foreseeable future, but state that in the next decade relations between Helsinki and Moscow may be in a state of deep freeze.
In such a scenario, in the long term, it is also impossible to deny the likelihood that the Finnish authorities will reconsider their position on joining NATO. And over the years that such changes will take, the mood among ordinary citizens of the country may change. Moreover, technologies for changing public consciousness have been around for a long time and have been tested in practice in the same Ukraine.
By Ivan Andrianov.