How Russia’s invasion of Ukraine pushed Finland and Sweden towards NATO

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Path to NATO Membership

  1. Country requests to join NATO
  2. North Atlantic Council decides whether or not to proceed with request*
  3. If Council agrees, then candidate country conducts accession talks with NATO about obligations of membership, a process that can last as little as a day
  4. North Atlantic Council reconvenes to consider whether or not to move forward with accession
  5. If agreed, allies sign accession protocol and country becomes a formal invitee, allowing them participation in most NATO meetings but no right to vote
  6. Allies then need to ratify the bid according to national procedures, a step that can take months
  7. Country ratifies bid and deposits it with the US State Department in Washington, becoming a formal member of NATO

Source: NATO

*North Atlantic Council can convene at various levels, including among NATO ambassadors, foreign ministers or heads of state

5. How has Russia responded to the idea? 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on May 12 that Finland joining NATO would “definitely” be a threat to Russia. Russia has previously warned of “serious military and political consequences” from Finnish and Swedish accession, requiring Russia “to respond”.

In April, Russia said it would deploy nuclear weapons in and around the Baltic Sea region if the two joined. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda dismissed the threat as “empty”, accusing Russia of already placing tactical nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad, its exclave on the Baltic. Russia had warned the Baltic states of serious consequences before they joined NATO in 2004, but that turned out to be a bluff.

On the other hand, Montenegro in 2016 said it had foiled a Russia-backed plan to assassinate then-premier Milo Djukanovic over the country’s plans to enter NATO, which materialised a year later.

A court in 2019 sentenced 14 people, including opposition leaders and Russian and Serbian nationals, to as many as 15 years in jail for staging the failed plot, though an appeals court last year annulled the verdicts. Finns expect to face more spying, cyberattacks, airspace breaches and influence operations by Russia should they pursue NATO membership. 

6. What are Finland and Sweden doing apart from rethinking NATO membership? 

They are increasing military cooperation between themselves and with other nations, work that began to accelerate in the run-up to the war in Ukraine.

In early March, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto visited US President Joe Biden, who promised, in a joint phone call with Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, to deepen cooperation between the three nations, and later the US made security assurances to both.

They’ve also signed security cooperation agreements with the UK. NATO’s pledge of collective defence only applies to members, and an extended period on the doorstep of the alliance without a security guarantee would risk a backlash from Russia that the applicant would face on its own.

They both intend to continue ramping up defence spending, with Sweden’s long-term plan increasing funding for the armed forces by almost 30 per cent from 2021 to 2024.