Ukraine conflict: Russia drives Sweden and Finland to NATO policy

In the two non-aligned countries Finland and Sweden, the debate on relations with Russia and NATO picked up speed again this week. It was driven by letters from the Russian Foreign Ministry that became known on Tuesday: The Russian government reiterated the demands it had communicated to NATO in December and now also demands “security guarantees” from Sweden and Finland.

The letters provoked sharp reactions in both countries. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said during a visit to Helsinki on Thursday that Finland has “full EU solidarity”. The EU wants to coordinate the reply of the letters to its member states.

The Foreign and Defense Ministers of Finland and Sweden met on Wednesday afternoon in Stockholm. After the talks, the Swedish Minister of Defense Peter Hultqvist told the newspaper Dagens Nyheter, neither the content nor the threatening undertone of the Russian letter is new. “Russia has no right to make demands that affect our security policy decisions or how we design our security policy network.” The fact that the security situation has become more threatening is mainly due to “Russia’s aggressive behavior”.

A possible NATO membership is now also an election campaign topic in Sweden

In both Finland and Sweden, the debate was already in full swing when the ministers met. Although both are members of the EU, unlike their Nordic neighbors Norway and Denmark, they are not members of NATO. Although Finland and Sweden have worked closely with the Alliance in recent years, they have a long tradition of freedom of alliance, which is now increasingly being questioned. “Sweden will probably join NATO,” Ulf Kristersson, leader of the bourgeois moderates, said in a major interview with the tabloid on Wednesday. Express: “We will open the door to NATO membership if there is a change of power in the autumn.”

(Photo: Ilona Burgarth)

Kristersson’s position on NATO is not new, but the opposition leader’s statements at this point are significant given the possibility that he will actually come to power after the September elections. With the interview, he has now turned the NATO issue into a campaign issue. He obviously believes he can score points with Social Democrat Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson. Andersson first announced a “deepening of the partnership between Sweden and NATO” in January, but remains at the same time as the traditional social ambivalence of the Swedish Social Democrats: the possibility of NATO membership is kept open and declared at the same time. that it is currently excluded.

In the Swedish public, supporters and opponents of NATO membership are currently in opinion polls, each accounting for almost a third – but the supporters’ camp is growing steadily. It’s the same in Finland. Also in Helsinki, Russian aggression was again a major topic after the letters became known. President Sauli Niinistö, who had already sent clear tones to Moscow in his New Year’s speech, reiterated on Wednesday that Russia’s demands were aimed at “a fundamental change in the European security order”.

Teija Tiilikainen, an expert in hybrid warfare, pointed out to the state broadcaster YLE that the Russian letters are part of a larger “hybrid threat operation”: Russia’s strategy is to confuse and divide the West, including with disinformation. President Niinistö also said that the Finns’ first line of defense is “between their ears”: “We must be able to trust each other.”

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