On Wednesday morning (May 18th 2022), Finland and Sweden simultaneously handed in their application to join NATO, breaking a long tradition of neutrality.
It is understandable that now, with the invasion of Ukraine, Nordic countries are looking for more protection from the world’s largest military alliance in the world. However, getting in will not be as easy as it would have been in the past, not only because of Russia but also because of some of NATO’s members.
The expansion of NATO is one of the reasons mentioned by Vladimir Putin for the invasion of their neighbour country. In the early hours of February 24th, 2022, the Russian president announced the "special military operation" against Ukraine, affirming it was a necessary step because “moving its military infrastructure closer to Russian borders”, making the situation more dangerous for the country. Therefore, continuing this expansion to other borders of Russia could easily trigger an even bigger conflict since it would be the most significant expansion in the last decades.
Even though Putin has said that Sweden and Finland’s application to NATO does not represent a threat to Russia, the military infrastructure’s expansion across their territory may trigger a response. Finland was already directly warned that, if necessary, Russia is ready to take retaliatory steps over the country’s move into NATO. This situation forces members to be even more careful while deciding if Sweden and Finland should get in or not.
The enlargement of NATO has to be approved by all (30) members, and, even though most countries accepted this application, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, claimed this was a mistake. More recently, Erdogan seems more open to conversations, having already expressed his requirements. Sweden and Finland’s position on the Kurdish militias will be a focal point in the negotiations. Turkey demands that both countries not only recognise the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) as a terrorist organisation but also publicly denounce the PKK and its affiliates before being allowed to join NATO. Moreover, Erdogan also wants that Sweden and Finland put an end to the restrictions regarding arms export in place since 2019, after Turkey’s incursion into Syria.
Regarding Russia, it is expected that Turkey’s president will want to keep an amicable relationship with the Kremlin to guarantee the protection of Russian troops stationed in Syria helping the Turks.
Cover image: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg attends a ceremony to mark Sweden’s and Finland’s application for membership in Brussels, Belgium, May 18, 2022 [Johanna Geron/Reuters]
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