Russia for years has warned that it would take military steps, among others, to counter any eventual decision by Finland or Sweden to join NATO. Yet since the Nordic countries declared that intention in mid-May, Russian officials’ changing rhetoric suggests that the Kremlin will seek to avoid any real confrontation over prospective NATO expansion.
Only three months into Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, the geopolitical ripple effects are being felt across the European continent. Motivated by Moscow’s aggression, Finland and Sweden have applied to join NATO, ending decades of both states’ respective non-aligned status. Finnish and Swedish NATO accession would boost the capabilities and defensibility of the alliance. Their joining NATO is a rebuke of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has bristled over the alliance’s post-Cold War expansion and used it as a pretext for his Ukraine incursion.
When Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström announced last year that her government would pursue a “feminist foreign policy,” the idea “met with considerable derision,” she says. “We call it the giggling factor.” And where the response was not quiet laughter, it was often confusion, including in Washington. “No one knows what this means” for Sweden’s approach to conflicts such as the Russia-Ukraine war, a Foreign Policy headline declared in December.