But in one important respect, Putin’s plan appears to have failed: the war has united the West against Moscow in ways that seemed unimaginable in January.
Speaking at a joint press conference with her Swedish counterpart in Stockholm on Wednesday, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said her country’s decision on whether to apply for membership would be made within “weeks, not months.”
“We need to have a vision of the future, and we use this time to analyze and develop a common vision for the future when it comes to security,” Marin said. “I will not give any timetable for when we will make our decisions, but I think it will happen pretty quickly. Within weeks, not months.”
On Wednesday, Finland’s government submitted an extensive report to the country’s parliament that examines the implications of NATO membership.
The report says that if Finland and Sweden become full members of NATO, “the threshold for the use of military force in the Baltic Sea region will increase”, which will increase “the stability of the region in the long term.”
The report said that the “most significant effect” of NATO membership “would be that Finland would become part of NATO’s collective defense and be covered by the security guarantees enshrined in Article 5”, adding that the deterrent effect of NATO membership would be “significantly stronger than at present, as it will draw on the capabilities of the entire Alliance.
The report warns that because of Russia’s “negative attitude towards NATO expansion”, Finland, if it applies for NATO membership, must be prepared for “hard to predict risks.” It adds that Finland “will seek to maintain a functioning relationship with Russia in the event that it becomes a member of NATO.”
The paper also noted that “close cooperation between Finland and Sweden during possible accession processes would be important” and that “simultaneous accession processes” for the two countries could also “facilitate preparation for and response to a possible Russian reaction.”
On Wednesday, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said at a press conference that “the security landscape has completely changed” after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and “given this situation, we should really think about what is best for Sweden, our security and our world in this new situation”.
“This is a very important time in history. There are before and after February 24,” Andersson said, referring to the start date of the Russian invasion. “We should have a process in Sweden to think things through.”
Andersson was also asked to comment on Swedish media reports that Sweden has already decided to join the alliance.
“Sometimes, if you read some statements in the Swedish media, it seems to you that you should make a decision as soon as possible,” she replied. “I think you really need to analyze the new situation, do it very seriously, think about the implications, the pros and cons of all possible ways forward.”
Public opinion in both countries has changed significantly since the invasion, and NATO allies and officials are generally supportive of the two countries joining. The only serious objection may come from Hungary, whose leader is close to Putin, but NATO officials believe it can twist Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s arm.
Given that Putin started his war by demanding that NATO return its borders to where they were in the 1990s, the fact that this is even being considered represents a diplomatic disaster for Moscow. And if Finland joined, Putin would suddenly find that Russia shares an additional 830 miles of border with NATO.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned on Monday that NATO expansion will not bring more stability to Europe.
“We have repeatedly said that the alliance itself is rather an instrument of confrontation. This is not an alliance that provides peace and stability, and further expansion of the alliance will certainly not lead to greater stability on the European continent,” he said.
Rob Bauer, head of NATO’s military committee, told reporters on Tuesday that the alliance is not excluding new members, but said it is ultimately up to Finland and Sweden to decide if they want to join, Reuters reported.
“It is a sovereign decision for any country that wants to join NATO to apply for membership, which they have not done so far… We are not forcing anyone to join NATO,” Bauer said.
Nor has Putin’s invasion spurred Ukraine to abandon its desire for closer integration with the West. While the country is unlikely to join NATO, its efforts to join the European Union have accelerated since the start of the war. This will take a very long time and could also face stiff opposition from Hungary, which is already in a nasty battle with Brussels over its violations of the rule of law, leading the EU to propose a suspension of Budapest’s central funding.
However, again, the fact that this is being talked about and the level of support among EU leaders and officials is further evidence of how united the West has become against Russia.
It is worth noting that since the beginning of the war, the West has remained largely united in its response to Russia, be it economic sanctions or military support for Ukraine.
However, there are several upcoming trials that will test just how solid this alliance against Russia really is.
First, if it turns out that Russia has used chemical weapons in Ukraine, there will be enormous pressure on the West, especially NATO, to get even more involved in the war – something the alliance has so far been reluctant to do.
NATO members have already discussed red lines and what actions should be taken if chemical weapons are used, but these details are being kept under wraps to prevent Russia from taking preemptive defensive action.
Any NATO intervention, however, will almost certainly lead to a less stable security situation in Europe, as the West risks a military confrontation with Russia, a nuclear power that is likely to retaliate by stepping up its attacks on Ukraine and possibly elsewhere. traditional Russian influence.
Second, the cost-of-living crisis in many European countries may soon test the unity of future Western sanctions against Russia and an embargo on Russian energy.
If, in the long run, the economy of Western Europe is seen as more important than holding Russia accountable for waging war on its peaceful neighbor, then Putin could get away with invading an innocent country to some extent.
But for now, as that unity largely persists, it’s clear that Putin’s desire to belittle the Western alliance has backfired—and that the strong man has ensured his country’s pariah status, perhaps for years to come.
Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report from Washington.