Finland and Sweden are set to join NATO as early as this summer, extending the organization’s borders alongside Russia by hundreds of miles, U.S. officials told the British newspaper the Times. Finland is expected to submit its application for membership in June, with Sweden to follow.
During talks among the organization's 30 member nations last week, U.S. officials said that NATO membership for the Nordic countries was the “topic of conversation.” Foreign ministers from both Sweden and Finland attended the NATO sessions.
“How can this be anything but a massive strategic blunder for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin?” a senior American official said in an interview with the Times.
Sweden and Finland have turned to NATO as a result of the threat Moscow has posed since it invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The Russian military has launched attacks against its neighbor by land, air and sea, and Putin has justified the war by claiming he is acting to “demilitarize” and “de-Nazify” the country.
Over the weekend, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said Russia is “not the neighbor we thought it was.” She added: “I think we will have very careful discussions, but we are also not taking any more time than we have to in this process, because the situation is, of course, very severe.”
Finland, which shares an 810-mile border with Russia, said it had discussed a possible bid for membership with “almost all” of the organization’s 30 delegates.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said two weeks ago that the country would be carrying out a security policy review and that it would be ready at the end of May. “I do not exclude NATO membership in any way,” she said. Stefan Nordstrom, a major in the Swedish Army, told Reuters that it would be “naive” to not recognize that there is a threat from Russia. "The security situation in the whole of Europe has changed, and we have to accept that, and we have to adapt,” he said.
Russia has repeatedly warned Finland against joining NATO. On March 12, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said that “there will be serious military and political consequences” if Finland joins the alliance.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in late February that he "value[s] the close partnership" with Finland and Sweden, even if they are not members. "This is a question of self-determination and the sovereign right to choose your own path and then potentially, in the future, also to apply for NATO membership,” he said.