They’ve opposed joining NATO for decades. War in Ukraine is making Sweden and Finland reconsider

Through the Cold War and the decades since, nothing could persuade Finns and Swedes that they would be better off joining NATO — until now.


Through the Cold War and the decades since, nothing could persuade Finns and Swedes that they would be better off joining NATO — until now.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has profoundly changed Europe’s security outlook, including for Nor- dic neutrals Finland and Sweden, where support for joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has surged to record levels.

A poll commissioned by Finnish broadcaster YLE this week showed that, for the first time, more than 50% of Finns support joining the transatlantic military alliance. In neighboring Sweden, a similar poll showed those in favor of NATO membership outnumbering those against.


“The unthinkable might start to become thinkable,” tweeted former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, a proponent of NATO membership.

Neither country is going to join the alliance overnight. Support for NATO membership rises and falls, and there’s no clear majority for joining in either country’s parliaments.

But the signs of changing attitudes since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine last week are unmistakable.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine is turning his fears of a more resolute Europe and NATO alliance into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Feb. 27, 2022

The assault prompted both Finland and Sweden to send assault rifles and antitank weapons to Kyiv, a break with their policy of not providing arms to countries at war. It is the first time Sweden has offered military aid since 1939, when it assisted Finland against the Soviet Union.

Apparently sensing a shift among its Nordic neighbors, the Russian Foreign Ministry last week voiced concern about what it described as efforts by the U.S. and some of its allies to “drag” Finland and Sweden into NATO and warned that Moscow would be forced to take retaliatory measures if they joined the alliance.

The governments of Sweden and Finland retorted that they won’t let Moscow dictate their security policy.


“I want to be extremely clear: It is Sweden that itself and independently decides on our security policy line,” Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said.

The U.N. General Assembly has voted to demand that Russia stop its offensive in Ukraine and withdraw all troops.

March 2, 2022

Finland has a conflict-ridden history with Russia, with which it shares an 830-mile border. Finns have taken part in dozens of wars against their eastern neighbor, for centuries as part of the Swedish Kingdom, and as an independent nation during the world wars. Finland fought the Soviet Union in 1939-40 and 1941-44.

In the postwar period, however, Finland pursued pragmatic political and economic ties with Moscow, remaining militarily nonaligned and a neutral buffer between East and West.

Sweden has avoided military alliances for more than 200 years, after centuries of warfare with its neighbors.

Both countries put an end to traditional neutrality by joining the European Union in 1995 and deepening cooperation with NATO. However, a majority of people in both countries remained firmly against full membership in the military alliance — until Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

The YLE poll showed 53% of respondents in favor of Finland joining NATO, with only 28% against. The poll had an error margin of 2.5 percentage points and included 1,382 respondents interviewed Feb. 23-25. Russia’s invasion began Feb. 24.

“It’s a very significant shift,” said senior researcher Matti Pesu of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

“We’ve had a situation in the past 25 to 30 years where Finns’ opinions on NATO have been very stable. It seems now to have changed completely.”

While noting that it’s not possible to draw conclusions from a single poll, Pesu said no similar shift in public opinion occurred after Russia’s 2008 war with Georgia and its 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, “so this is an exception.”

In Sweden, a late February poll commissioned by Swedish public broadcaster SVT found 41% of Swedes supported NATO membership and 35% opposed it, marking the first time that those in favor exceeded those against.

Many thousands of people fleeing Ukraine are arriving in Przemysl, Poland.

March 2, 2022

The Nordic duo, important partners for NATO in the Baltic Sea area where Russia has substantially increased its military maneuvers in the last decade, has strongly stressed that it is their decisions alone whether to join the military alliance.


In his New Year’s speech, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto pointedly said that “Finland’s room to maneuver and freedom of choice also include the possibility of military alignment and of applying for NATO membership, should we ourselves so decide.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg noted last week that, for Helsinki and Stockholm, “this is a question of self-determination and the sovereign right to choose your own path and then, potentially in the future, also to apply for NATO.”

There are no set criteria for joining NATO, but aspiring candidates must meet certain political and other considerations. Many observers believe Finland and Sweden would qualify for fast-track entry without lengthy negotiations, and membership could be a reality within months.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spurred comparisons to China and Taiwan. Taiwanese wonder if they’d be ready.

March 3, 2022

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said this week that her Social Democratic Party would discuss possible NATO membership with other parties but didn’t set a time frame.

“Together we see that the security situation has changed remarkably since Russia attacked Ukraine. It is a fact that we have to acknowledge,” Marin said.