As Russia continues its “special military operation” in Ukraine, NATO is set to expand from 30 nations to 32 with the inclusion of Finland and Sweden as early as this summer.
According to U.S. officials, NATO’s addition of the two Nordic countries was a “topic of conversation and multiple sessions” during the military alliance’s discussions last week, which were attended by both Sweden and Finland, The Times reported.
Finland’s official application to join NATO is expected in June, with Sweden to follow shortly after. An Estonian official and a member of U.K.’s NATO delegation confirmed the report to Newsweek.
One U.S. official who spoke to the publication under the condition of anonymity called it a “massive strategic blunder for Putin” to drive the two previously neutral countries into NATO’s arms.
In response to the report, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday that Russia has “repeatedly said that the alliance remains a tool geared toward confrontation and its further expansion will not bring stability to the European continent,” Newsweek reported.
“Russia is not the neighbour we thought it was,” said Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who stated that the country will decide by the end of spring whether to apply to become a member of NATO. She said that the decision would be made “thoroughly but quickly.”
Marin said that Finland’s relations with Russia changed in an "irreversible" way since the onset of the invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
“If the president or I voiced strong opinions on the issue, it would be the end of the debate […] I believe it’s very important that all of Finland’s most central institutions are involved in the ongoing debate,” she said.
Tobias Baudin, the secretary for Sweden’s ruling party, told local news outlets that the country is reviewing its international security policy and would hold discussions on whether to join NATO — a review that is expected to conclude within the next few months.
“Clearly [the] accession of Finland and Sweden into NATO, which is first and foremost a military alliance, would have serious military-political repercussions that would demand a response from our country,” warned Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
On April 3, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told CNN that should Finland and Sweden apply for membership, they would be “very much welcomed by all allies” and that the organization would “find a way to do that in a relatively quick way, to take them into the alliance.”