Decisive week for Finland, Sweden as NATO decisions loom

Finland and Sweden are expected to announce this week whether to apply to join NATO following Russia’s Ukraine invasion, in what would be a stunning reversal of decades-long non-alignment policies.
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The Nordic nations have been rattled by Moscow’s war against its pro-Western neighbour, which has bolstered domestic support for joining the military alliance — and the security that membership would provide.

“It is 100 percent certain that Finland will apply, and quite likely that it will be a member by the end of the year”, researcher Charly Salonius-Pasternak of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs told AFP, with a majority in parliament backing membership.

Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine has also led to a swift turnaround in Finnish and Swedish public opinion in favour of NATO membership, which until recently had little backing.

A poll published Monday by Finnish public broadcaster Yle showed that a record 76 percent of Finns now support joining the alliance, up from the steady 20 to 30 percent registered in recent years.

Public opinion has also surged in Sweden, albeit to lower levels, with around half of Swedes now in favour.

After weeks of intense political meetings at home and abroad, all signs now point to the two countries announcing a joint bid before the end of the week.

Sweden’s ruling Social Democratic Party said Monday it would announce its position on the NATO issue on May 15. A favourable stance would provide a clear parliamentary majority for an application.

Elisabeth Braw, an expert on Nordic countries’ defence at the American Enterprise Institute, told AFP that even though Stockholm appears more hesitant than Helsinki, she believes the two countries “will do the application at the same time”.

Traditionally accustomed to lengthy consensus-building debates on major issues, Sweden has been caught off-guard by Finland’s swift turnaround.

“The Social Democrats in Sweden have always said: ‘We’ll think about this when Finland joins’… because they thought Finland would never join”, Braw said.

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