HELSINKI: The unthinkable two months ago before the invasion of Ukraine is now possible and even probable: this week Finland enters the decisive phase of its possible NATO candidate, with a final choice expected by the end of June.
A white paper on the country’s security is due to be published – probably on Thursday – by the government of the Scandinavian country to outline the implications of the new face of the Russian neighbor.
Launched in early March, the strategic review promises to be the starting point for a parliamentary and nationwide debate that will last several weeks, at a time when a similar question is being raised in neighboring Sweden.
“We will have very thorough discussions, but we will not take more time than necessary,” Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Friday.
“I think we will finish our discussion before the end of June,” said the young social democratic leader.
“I think the candidacy will be presented sometime in May” to make a decision at a NATO summit scheduled for late June in Madrid, former Prime Minister Alexander Stubb told AFP.
In recent weeks, Finland has stepped up consultations with nearly all 30 NATO members.
Together with its Swedish neighbor, the country has received clear assurances from General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg that the door is open for it and has received a lot of support from the United States to Germany via France or the UK.
The shift in public opinion has been dramatic, with polls now showing an all-time high of 60% of Finns in favor of membership, double the rate in pre-war Ukraine. The proportion of hostile people has dropped to about 20%.
Although not everyone has yet expressed their position, there is also a clear majority in favor of NATO in Parliament.
Like many of his colleagues, the elected Center Party spokesman Joonas Kontta believed that the alliance was “something we don’t need now”.
But the Russian invasion “changed Europe without turning back” and “NATO membership would give us great security value,” he told AFP today.
Opposing MPs are rare, such as Left Alliance MP Markus Mustajärvi, elected from the north, who believes the rejection of military alliances has “brought stability to all of Northern Europe.”
What is the reaction from Moscow? Vladimir Putin, who brandished the red rag of NATO expansion to justify an invasion of Ukraine, is facing a possible new 1,340-kilometer border with the Western military alliance.
Moscow regularly threatens Helsinki and Stockholm with “serious political and military consequences” if they join, a warning that has been repeated in recent weeks.
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö acknowledged at the end of March that a NATO nomination could provoke a “rapid” Russian reaction, with government websites subjected to cyberattacks on Friday.
NATO membership requires the unanimity of members. If Turkey’s support seems to have been received according to Helsinki, a question mark remains with Viktor Orban’s Hungary.
According to Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, NATO believes that it will take four to twelve months to complete the membership procedure – for North Macedonia, this procedure took 13 months, the last time the accession took place in March 2020.
On paper, Finland (population 5.5 million) is a dream candidate with a record number of reservists, a sign of constant vigilance towards its Russian neighbor.
“We can mobilize 280,000 to 300,000 men and women in a few days,” Stubb said.
After ordering 64 US F-35 fighter jets at the end of 2021, the country has just recorded a 40% jump in its military budget by 2026 and will be well above the 2% of GDP recommended by NATO.
A former grand duchy of Russia before independence in 1917, Finland was invaded by the Soviet Union in 1939 in a three-month “Winter War” where its fierce resistance today draws parallels to the Ukrainian war.
At the end of a new so-called “long” war (1941-1944) against the Soviets, the Scandinavian country was subjected to forced neutrality throughout the Cold War, “Finlandization” under the narrow control of Moscow.
Only in the 1990s did Finland join the EU and become a NATO partner.