The two Nordic countries are technically not members till the accession process is completed through ratification, which may take a year. Till then, both are open to Russian aggression. Meanwhile, some other defence pacts have been signed on the side.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) formally invited historically-neutral Sweden and Finland to the military alliance bloc on June 29 as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continued for its 13th week. The two countries, which have remained neutral for a significant part of the past 100 years, submitted their applications on May 18, in light of the Russian aggression towards Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intermittent nuclear sabre rattling.
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“We reaffirm our commitment to NATO’s Open Door Policy. Today, we have decided to invite Finland and Sweden to become members of NATO, and agreed to sign the Accession Protocols,” the organisation said in a statement.
“We welcome the conclusion of the trilateral memorandum between Türkiye, Finland, and Sweden to that effect. The accession of Finland and Sweden will make them safer, NATO stronger, and the Euro-Atlantic area more secure. The security of Finland and Sweden is of direct importance to the Alliance, including during the accession process.”
What was the deal with Turkey?
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had been threatening to block the membership application to the alliance bloc. But at the recent NATO summit in Madrid, President Erdogan dropped his weeks of resistance, of course not without getting several concessions in a 10-point agreement.
Erdogan, however, held on to his bellicose stand, telling reporters on June 30, just as the summit ended, that the memorandum did not mean Turkey would automatically approve the two countries' membership. “If they fulfil their duties, we will send it to the parliament. If they are not fulfilled, it is out of the question," he said.
One of the major points in the agreement is that Finland and Sweden will now extradite Kurdish militants to Turkey. Another major agreement is that the two Scandinavian countries will lift the arms embargo on Turkey, which had been imposed in response to the latter’s 2019 military incursion into Syria.
Thirty three individuals are expected to be extradited from the two countries. All of these are either accused of being Kurdish militants or being part of the failed ‘coup’ that Turkey witnessed in 2016. Since 2016, President Erdogan has increased his authoritarian control and clamped down hard on civil societies in Turkey. With Finland and Sweden being some of the more outspoken critics of Turkey, or Türkiye as President Erdogan insists the country be called, the agreement changes the dynamics between these countries.
Are Finland and Sweden NATO members now?
The two countries are technically not members until the accession process is completed through ratification. The ratification process will take nearly a year as each of NATO’s 30 allies need to have the membership ratified by their parliaments. Once the ratification is completed, Finland and Sweden will be covered by the treaty’s mutual defence under Article 5. But in the interim, the countries are at risk of Russian aggression, though military aggression is unlikely with nearly the entirety of Russian forces being tied up in Ukraine. Other forms of aggression like cyberattacks and energy pressure, however, can be expected.
In the meantime, several NATO allies have made less binding commitments to protect the two countries. The most comprehensive of these is a defence pact that the UK has signed with the two countries, which would see the island nation come to the defence of either country in case of any aggression.
“If either country should suffer a disaster or an attack, the United Kingdom and Sweden will assist each other in a variety of ways. The support will be given on request by the affected country and may include military resources,” Sweden's PM Magdalena Andersson had said.
What does it mean for the region?
Sweden has been neutral for over 100 years while Finland has been neutral since the start of the Cold War. Both countries have tried to maintain normal relations with Russia, but the Russian invasion has now pushed both countries towards NATO. With this, Russia is almost entirely surrounded by NATO countries on its Western front, with the exception of Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus, something that Russia has been trying to avoid since the start of the Cold War.
President Putin has already responded to the membership bid by threatening the two countries, cutting electrical supplies to Finland and warning of further “military-technical” actions. What exactly that entails is not clear.
Russia’s reasoning to invade Crimea in 2014 and Georgia in 2008, outside of President Putin’s mythic ambition to revive the borders of the Soviet Union, was purportedly to prevent the expansion of NATO towards what it considered to be its own sphere of geopolitical influence. But with the decision to militarily destabilise the new world order, the President has caused the very thing that he wanted to avoid — Russian exclusion and NATO’s expansion.