The Irish Times view on Nato’s Nordic expansion: Vladimir Putin’s legacy

Putin changing western security policy in lasting ways but not how he intended

Russia has warned Finland and Sweden against joining the alliance, threatening ‘serious military and political consequences’. Photograph: Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/AFP via Getty

Russia has warned Finland and Sweden against joining the alliance, threatening ‘serious military and political consequences’. Photograph: Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/AFP via Getty

 

Vladimir Putin launched an unprovoked war on Ukraine in mid-February because, he said, he could not tolerate Nato coming closer to Russia’s borders. Eleven weeks later, it now looks almost certain that, as a direct result of Putin’s aggression, the Atlantic alliance’s shared border with Russia is about to double by 1,300km.

The joint declaration of support from the president and prime minister of Finland for Nato membership confirms the remarkable shift in that country’s strategic outlook as a result of Putin’s war. In January, public support in Finland for joining Nato was at 28 per cent. Today it is at 73 per cent. Rapidly gathering political momentum means that when the move goes to a vote in the Finnish parliament in the coming days, it is expected to be endorsed. That would mark a historic shift from Finland’s postwar policy of military non-alignment. Sweden is on the same trajectory; there, the ruling Social Democrats are due to decide today whether to support Nato membership.

Russia has warned Finland and Sweden against joining the alliance, threatening “serious military and political consequences”. Asked if Finland would provoke Moscow by joining Nato, Finland’s president Sauli Niinistö said Putin would be to blame for any decision to join the military alliance. “My response would be that you caused this. Look at the mirror,” he said.

The prospect of two militarily non-aligned Nordic states joining the Atlantic alliance is a telling illustration of the counterproductive results of Putin’s war. All of the Kremlin’s assumptions going into Ukraine have been proved wrong. It underestimated the strength of the Ukrainian defence, it failed to anticipate the preparedness of the West to impose tough sanctions and it mistakenly assumed that internal divisions on both sides of the Atlantic would ensure Moscow would not meet a united response.

That unity will of course be tested in the coming period, but as the changes that are afoot in the Nordic states show, Putin is changing western security policy in real and lasting ways, if not in the way he intended.

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