Adios wartime neutrality

It seems that unprovoked attacks, like hangings, concentrate the mind. Finland and Sweden are feeling less neutral.

Finland and Sweden could apply for Nato membership within days – a monumental shift for two nations with a long history of wartime neutrality and staying out of military alliances.

Russia strongly opposes the two states joining and uses the expansion of the West’s defensive military alliance as a pretext for its war in Ukraine.

Well, Putin opposes. What Russia thinks independent of Putin is not always easy to know, because Putin doesn’t allow it to be easy.

Putin is all of the totalitarian force and punishment of Stalin, with no trace of any fig leaf of working class solidarity or any other ideological veneer.

Finnish public support for joining Nato was for years at around 20-25%. But since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it has shot up to a record high of 76%, according to the latest opinion poll. In Sweden, 57% of the population want to join, again far higher than before the war.

Unprovoked attack on a near neighbor will do that, I guess.

Vladimir Putin’s actions have shattered a long-standing sense of stability in northern Europe, leaving Sweden and Finland feeling vulnerable.

I wonder if he’s asking himself how clever it was to bounce Finland and Sweden into joining Nato.

Finnish ex-Prime Minister Alexander Stubb says joining the alliance was a “done deal” for his country as soon as Russian troops invaded Ukraine on 24 February.

Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist describes that day as the moment the Russian leader proved he was “unpredictable, unreliable and prepared to wage a cruel, bloody and brutal war”. 

And to do so without any shred of pretext convincing to anyone not under his thumb.

For Finns, events in Ukraine bring a haunting sense of familiarity. The Soviets invaded Finland in late 1939. For more than three months the Finnish army put up fierce resistance, despite being heavily outnumbered.

They avoided occupation, but ended up losing 10% of their territory.

Watching the war in Ukraine unfold is like reliving this history, says Iro Sarkka, a political scientist at the University of Helsinki. Finns are looking at their 1,340km (830 mile) border with Russia, she says, and thinking: “Could this happen to us?”

And knowing the answer is of course it could.

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