NATO Has Some New Applicants. What Does This Have To Do With Russia & Ukraine?

What does this move mean?

Credit: Getty/ Drew Angerer
Credit: Getty/ Drew Angerer

NATO’s entire history stems from its emergence as an organization of unity after World War 2 for collective security among the Allies. Most NATO members are countries in North America or Western Europe, with some exceptions. And, like any fun big international group, you have to apply to get in.

In recent weeks, two new potential members have announced intentions to join the alliance: Finland and its fellow Nordic neighbor, Sweden.

Now, the alliance has been around for decades, and was critical during the Cold War when there was a possibility of a Soviet threat. Throughout the years, both Finland and Sweden have maintained a stance of neutrality, even during the tensest geopolitical events in the past. So the announcement made by Finnish leaders and the Swedish prime minister raises the question of ‘why now?’ And what is so critical about the current state of affairs that has sparked interest in these two countries—which have long held against joining the alliance—to suddenly seek membership?
This is where Russia’s invasion of Ukraine comes in.

As we approach month four of Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, we see a different response and a sense of caution from both Sweden and Finland. To understand this, we have to look at the borders of these European nations and examine them from both sides.

First, we have to look at it from both Finland's and Sweden’s perspectives. The borders between the two Nordic countries and Russia have been relatively peaceful, with both countries even encouraging cross-border tourism in the past. But today, it’s different. With Russian tanks rolling across Ukrainian borders in an initial abrupt move, both countries have re-examined if they can ever trust the idea of having a peaceful coexistence next to Russia. Finland has historically had low public support in joining NATO until these last few months when it skyrocketed to 76%. In Sweden similarly, most are pro-joining amid current tensions.

Now, for current NATO members, this news is, for the most part, beneficial, and the new

memberships would be a strategic addition. Sweden and Finland both share borders with Russia, and their addition to the alliance would increase NATO’s border with Russia by more than double, increasing to around 1,600 miles from the previous 750, which would change the security landscape in Europe immensely, and deal a blow to a government which has been trying for years to halt NATO expansion.

So what does this mean for Russia? While there hasn’t been any retaliatory response to the decision, Russia has repeatedly in the past threatened the membership bid with fears of an increase in NATO military presence along Russian borders. Russian officials have openly spoken in response and it seems there has been a shift in tone. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday that Finland and Sweden joining NATO would probably make "not much difference," Reuters reported.

With all of this said, nothing is set in stone just yet. For both countries to officially join, they require approval from all 30 current NATO members, which could take multiple months. And it might not be as easy as it seems, with Turkey threatening to block the vote. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Thursday that Turkey plans to reject the two nations' bids to join the alliance, after having accused them earlier of being "like guesthouses for terror organizations," according to CNN.