A year of safe living? Finland’s first 12 months in NATO | NATO news

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A year ago, Finland abandoned its old tradition of neutrality and sat The 31st member of NATO. Joining the transatlantic fleet significantly changed Finland’s foreign and security policy.

He also saw Helsinki moving away from Moscow after WWII, as the Nordic country constantly tried to maintain good relations with the Kremlin.

Finland’s decision to join was due to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Moscow’s actions in Ukraine led policymakers in Helsinki and many Finnish citizens to view NATO membership as the best way to prevent a Russian takeover of their country. .

“War [in Ukraine] It led to a serious threat caused by Russia’s need for a voice in the sphere of influence, its desire to take risks and the readiness to use the military on a large scale, and its nuclear pressure, “Matti Pesu, a senior researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) , which deals with security in northern Europe, told Al Jazeera.

“NATO membership was seen as the only solution to the problem that seems to be hindering Finnish security. At the moment, the perception of Russia in Finland in the world is very negative, and Finland wants to find a solution to the problems in the EU and NATO ,” said Pesu.

Tuomas Iso-Markku, a senior researcher at FIIA, said the move would require Finland’s foreign policy leadership and the Finnish military to “change the way they think and act”.

“Now, for the first time, Finland is part of the military alliance and it must, and must prepare its defense together with others,” he told Al Jazeera.

Despite being a member of the EU since 1995 and having a history of close cooperation with the US military and other members of the Western alliance, the main pillar of Helsinki’s foreign policy was self-reliance and the country’s position in international affairs had many nationalistic views.

“As a partner, Finland must see its efforts in terms of the needs and goals of the alliance. That said, even as a partner, Finland will continue to build a strong national security that is seen as the basis of its NATO policy,” said Iso-Markku .

Vaalimaa border between Finland and Russia in Virolahti, Finland, which was closed, on January 14, 2024. [Lehtikuva/Lauri Heino/via Reuters]

Finnish-Russian conflicts

Given Moscow’s view of NATO’s eastward and northern expansion as a threat to Russia’s political and security interests, the Kremlin unsurprisingly saw Finland’s entry into the alliance as a blow to Moscow.

When Finland applied for NATO membership in May 2022, Russia made the first attempt to lower its meaning. However, after the northern European country joined the transatlantic alliance in April 2023, Moscow’s voice grew louder, and it took steps to create problems for Finland.

“Russia is trying to distract Finland by supporting or at least to allow more illegal immigration,” said Wolfgang Pusztai, senior adviser at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy. “There is a lot that the Russian border authorities are helping migrants without proper documents to reach the border. The Finnish authorities see this as a way to return NATO to Finland,” he added.

Finland has a small Russian population of 100,000, most of whom live in the south and southeast near the Finnish-Russian border, which is currently closed. However, Mr. Pusztai said that the minority “doesn’t pay attention to Russian propaganda” and ultimately “Putin’s methods to make life difficult in Finland – next to military escalation – are limited.”

Currently, relations between Finland and Russia do not exist and will probably remain so unless Moscow’s actions in Ukraine change.

“Because of Russia’s war on Ukraine, Finland has cut off almost all economic relations with Russia and there is no political dialogue between the two countries. As long as Russia continues to fight against Ukraine, it is unlikely that the Finnish side will resume action political with Russia,” said Iso-Markku.

Norway-Finland NATO
Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store and Finnish President Alexander Stubb are briefed by Lieutenant Colonel Morgan Long of the US Marine Corps during the Nordic Response exercise in Alta, Norway, on March 7, 2024. [NTB/Heiko Junge via Reuters]

What Helsinki brings to Western cooperation

Sharing a border of more than 1,300 kilometers (more than 800 miles) with Russia, Finland contributes significantly to NATO in a variety of ways from geography and capabilities to defense technology and vital information.

“It is a Baltic-Arctic fortress that provides technical depth to our allies to the south and west,” said Pesu. “This is a strong military force that is expanding the capabilities of the alliance, especially in the land and air space.”

In addition, he added, Finland has been “constantly” developing defense and security measures against Russia for many years, and can share important lessons with its allies.

“Because of the weather in Finland, the country’s soldiers also know a lot about the Arctic war. Finland’s new NATO partners are also very impressed by Finland’s model of comprehensive security, which aims to involve all groups of people in preparing for crises in order to be able to respond quickly and remain resilient, “Iso-Markku said. Al Jazeera.

“Finally, Finland is known for its innovative, low-key and stimulating foreign policy approach, which should help drive global politics, and can be useful for NATO as a whole,” added Iso-Markku.

Regionally, Finland’s NATO membership has dramatically changed the landscape of northern Europe, making Moscow see any possible confrontation with the Western alliance as more dangerous, analysts said.

“St Petersburg, Russia’s main port on the Baltic and the country’s second largest city is now 150km (93 miles) from two NATO countries – to the west, Estonia and to the north, which is now Finland.”

Finland’s membership in NATO mainly leaves Murmansk, Russia’s military base in the northern Barents Sea and possibly the White Sea at risk, Pusztai said.

“Together [they] it is home to more than half of Russia’s missile submarines,” he added.

“If Murmansk and the Kola Peninsula were lost, Russia’s efforts in the North Atlantic would not be ended and blocking Russian channels would be very difficult.

“As a result, Moscow will need to plan to send very expensive troops to protect the northern part, troops that cannot be used in Eastern Europe.”

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