Finland and Sweden could join the US-led military bloc in a matter of months, sources tell The Times
Finland and Sweden could join NATO as early as this summer in response to Moscow's ongoing military assault on Ukraine, according to a report from Britain's The Times newspaper, on Monday.
The Finnish application to join the bloc is expected to be submitted in June, with Sweden following suit shortly after that, unnamed US officials told the British newspaper.
The possible membership of the two Nordic nations was "a topic of conversation and multiple sessions" during the summit of NATO's foreign ministers in Brussels last week, the sources said. Finland's FM Pekka Haavisto and his Swedish counterpart Ann Linde were both present at the two-day talks.
Helsinki and Stockholm "would be real feathers in NATO's cap as net contributors," especially in terms of intelligence-gathering and air-force capabilities, according to a European diplomat who talked to the paper.
Russia, Finland and Sweden all have access to the Baltic Sea, with a shared Russian-Finnish land border spanning some 1,340km.
A senior US official claimed that the Russian offensive in Ukraine was "a massive strategic blunder for [Russia's President Vladimir] Putin" as it made Helsinki and Stockholm question their policy of not joining any military alliances.
Moscow opposes the expansion of NATO, but the inclusion of Finland and Sweden in the bloc won't become an existential threat to it, Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov told Sky News on Friday. But Russia would have to make its "Western flank more sophisticated in terms of ensuring our security" if such a move takes place, he said.
NATO is "tailored for confrontation and the main purpose for its existence is to confront our country," Peskov said.
Finland must decide on its NATO bid "thoroughly but quickly," Sanna Marin, the country's prime minister, said earlier this month. "Russia is not the neighbor we thought it was," she insisted.
"I don't exclude NATO membership in any way," her Swedish counterpart Magdalena Andersson pointed out in late March.
Both Helsinki and Stockholm have announced that they're now carrying out reviews of their security policies. The Finnish review is expected to be completed by mid-April and the Swedish one by the end of May.
Finland's foreign minister had earlier suggested that, if the country eventually decides to join the bloc, it could take the parliaments of the 30 NATO member states between four and 12 months to officially approve the bid.
However, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg insisted that "the very decision to welcome Finland to NATO can be made very quickly and then it is a formal process in the capitals or parliaments to ratify it."
Russia launched a large-scale offensive against Ukraine in late February, following Kiev's failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements signed in 2014, and Russia's eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German- and French-brokered Minsk Protocol was designed to regularize the status of the regions within the Ukrainian state.
Russia has now demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two rebel regions by force.