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EXPLAINER – Is Russia a genuine threat to Sweden and Finland?

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BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 16: A view of NATO headquarters as an extraordinary meeting of NATO defense ministers to be held amid Russia's attacks on Ukraine, in Brussels, Belgium on March 16, 2022. (Dursun Aydemir - Anadolu Agency)
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May 02, 2022 - 08:35 AM

ANKARA (AA) – Sweden and Finland have historically avoided NATO membership in an effort not to provoke Russia, but Russia’s war on Ukraine changed the situation for the two countries.

One of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s justifications for targeting Ukraine was that it might attempt to join NATO and become a threat to its border as well as give it the protection of the alliance’s mutual defense pact.

Finland, which shares a 1,300-kilometer-long (807-mile) border with Russia, wanted to stay out of future conflicts, giving it the freedom to maintain a strong relationship with Moscow and the West while enjoying a free market economy.

After the Second World War, Finland signed a treaty in 1948 with the Soviet Union declaring absolute neutrality. The Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance forbade both parties from joining a military alliance against the other.

Sweden on the other hand has remained neutral ever since a proclamation by King Gustav XIV in 1834. Even after World War II, Sweden opted to preserve its neutral status.

But for the first time, polls show that more than 50% of Finns support joining the Western military alliance. A similar poll in Sweden showed that those in favor of NATO membership outnumber those against.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has warned the two countries about the consequences of joining NATO. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov also said that if Finland and Sweden joined NATO, Russia will look to rebalance the situation to ensure its own security.

Under this pressure, Helsinki and Stockholm have agreed to submit NATO applications at the same time, which is expected to happen in mid-May.

According to article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, an attack on one NATO state is considered an attack on all, resulting in retaliation from all members.

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