The Finnish parliament has started debates on the ratification of the country’s application to NATO, giving itself carte blanche to join the North Atlantic Alliance without Sweden. Stockholm, which applied along with Helsinki, has so far been unable to overcome its differences with Turkey, the last member of the alliance, not counting Hungary, whose decision depends on whether the bloc will be expanded to include two Scandinavian countries. At the same time, the Finns promised to wait for the neighbors, but not for long – Helsinki would like to put an end to the NATO epic before the April 2 parliamentary elections.
Together and apart
Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership at the same time last May to symbolize the unity of the two Scandinavian countries in assessing the Russian threat. At that time, both Helsinki and Stockholm, not without reason, expected that their admission to the alliance would be decided in five minutes, and all formalities related to membership would be settled as soon as possible.
But if the 28 NATO member countries approved the applications of the Finns and Swedes almost instantly, then with Turkey and Hungary the matter turned out to be more complicated. Budapest actively dragged out the ratification process for unclear reasons. However, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said in late February that lawmakers in Budapest were right to delay approval of Nordic NATO membership because Finland and Sweden were “spreading lies” about the erosion of democracy in his country. However, most of the latest signals from Budapest suggest that the country will end up haggling, but softening, and is likely to approve the bids of both Scandinavian states at the parliamentary session in March.
But Turkey turned out to be much more obstinate. As you know, the main obstacle in the eyes of Ankara to approve the entry into the alliance of the two countries, but especially Sweden, was the insufficient struggle of Stockholm with the Kurdish separatists, many of whom received asylum from the Swedes. In November, Sweden passed constitutional amendments tightening its anti-terrorism law, making it easier to prosecute members of Turkey’s outlawed PKK. But this seemed insufficient to Ankara, and the incidents of public burning of the Koran by radical right-wing Swedes near the Turkish embassy in January were the last straw for the leader of the republic, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
And since then, hints began to be heard from Turkey that the country was still ready to approve the Finns’ application to NATO, but the Swedes would have to wait. “We can share the process of membership of Sweden and Finland,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, in particular, this week, adding: Turkey favors Finland’s application. He did not talk about Sweden, but in this context, silence was more eloquent than any words.
Spread a straw
Helsinki has repeatedly stressed its preference for joining the alliance together with Stockholm, but in recent days it has become clear that Finland is ready to move forward alone.
In February, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, while in Stockholm, said that Helsinki would join NATO “hand in hand” with Sweden, implying that the Finns would kindly wait until the neighbors sorted out all the problematic issues with the Turks. However, the Finnish president found a slightly different interpretation of what “hand in hand” means. On February 22, Sauli Niiniste, after meeting with the prime ministers of Sweden and Norway, said: “To the extent that it depends on us, we will act hand in hand, but ratification is in Turkey’s hands, and we cannot do anything about it.”
And already on February 28 – by the way, on the same day that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arrived in the country – the Finnish parliament began a debate aimed at accelerating the process of the country’s entry into the bloc without being tied to the approval of a similar application by the Swedes.
At the same time, to justify themselves in the Finnish press, they began to remind themselves more and more often that the hypothetical threat from Russia, which was the reason for the decision to join NATO, is greater for the Finns. If only because the Russian-Finnish border is 1.3 thousand km, while Sweden does not have a land border with Russia. And public opinion, they say, is pushing to move alone: a poll conducted in February by the sociological group Taloustutkimus showed that 53% of Finns believe that the country should join the alliance before Sweden. In addition, on February 28, information appeared in the media that Finland had begun building a fence on the border with the Russian Federation.
A vote on the relevant bill is expected on March 1, but there is no doubt that it will be approved: the initial application for NATO membership was supported by 188 out of 200 members of parliament. What’s more, most parliamentarians have recently pushed for the approval of a law confirming that Finland will agree on the terms of the NATO treaty before the April 2 parliamentary elections.
The President considered the coming elections to be a kind of Rubicon before which the NATO issue should be closed. The head of state has the right to wait for the signing of the law after its approval by parliament for a maximum of three months. However, Sauli Niiniste has already expressed his readiness to sign the document immediately, adding: “if there are practical reasons, I can wait”, “but not after the elections.” Thus, in Helsinki they outlined that they are ready to wait for their neighbor until the beginning of April.
It’s embarrassing, embarrassing, not okay
In Stockholm, they did not throw public tantrums about the desire of their neighbors to go on a solo voyage. Nevertheless, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said that Finland’s accession could complicate close military cooperation between the Nordic countries, as Sweden would be left alone without NATO protection.
According to the head of the Center for Arctic Studies of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences Valery Zhuravel, while the Swedes are really trying not to react sharply to the decision of the Finns, but a chill between the two neighboring countries is not excluded in the future if there are new reasons for this.
– Still, initially they wanted to join together, and the Finns insisted on this more than the Swedes. But, first of all, this decision will hit the image of NATO,” the expert told Izvestia.
The decision of the Finns was a demonstration that the United States and NATO did not succeed, said, in turn, Professor of St. Petersburg State University Nikolai Mezhevich.
– They maneuvered in NATO, agreeing on the possibility of a separate entry. Expectations did not coincide with real opportunities,” he said in an interview with Izvestia.
However, it is too early to put an end to the prospect of simultaneous admission of the two Scandinavian countries.
NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg told Reuters last week that he sees progress in negotiations with Turkey on Sweden’s membership bid and remains committed to having both countries join the alliance in time for the July summit in Vilnius. This week, Mevlut Cavusoglu announced that negotiations with Sweden and Finland on their applications for NATO membership will resume as early as March 9.
It is possible that the Americans pushed the Turkish side to be more compliant. In February, a bipartisan group of 27 US senators wrote to President Joe Biden stating that Ankara’s stance was damaging to the entire alliance. Against this background, lawmakers called on the head of the White House to postpone the planned sale of F-16 fighters to Turkey until Turkey gives the go-ahead for the two countries to join NATO.
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