Will Sweden, Finland’s NATO membership prolong Ukraine war?

Huseyin Bagci & Tolga Sakman

Russia remains firmly opposed to Sweden and Finland’s possible NATO membership, but both countries are adamant on discarding their longstanding neutrality and becoming part of the military alliance. Below, two experts present their views on whether the Nordic states’ push to become NATO members could escalate and prolong the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Tolga Sakman: Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession can help end the Ukraine war. NATO is expected to further deter Russian aggression without embroiling itself in a direct conflict with Moscow. For this, NATO needs to increase its military capacity, pursue a cohesive political policy, and be more capable diplomatically. Sweden and Finland firmly belong in the community of Western values, which NATO also represents. Any possible conflict with Russia will not just be shaped by leaders or weapons.
The fact is that both Sweden and Finland are known for their neutrality and economic prowess. Having them in NATO will not only boost the confidence of the bloc’s members, but also open a new front against Russia. On the other hand, there has been debate among NATO allies, which created a new conjuncture and led to some regional challenges. Russian aggression against Ukraine took place in the midst of these disputes, which is why NATO was unable to give a quick joint response. Many hope that Europe will become stronger with Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO.
With this context, it can be predicted that both Sweden and Finland, which borders Russia, will enable NATO to play a more active role in ending the Ukraine conflict. The military capacities of both countries are already above NATO standards. Finland has increased its defense budget to 2% of its GDP in line with NATO targets, while Sweden aims to do the same by 2028. Both countries have hiked spending on military vehicles and ammunition. Finland inked a deal to buy 64 F-35 fighter aircraft from the US, while Sweden developed its own fighter jet, Gripen.
The two countries have ramped up interaction with NATO since the war began, participating in every meeting about the conflict and becoming somewhat part of the alliance’s defense mechanism. Their membership will also give NATO some geographical advantages over Russia. First, Russia’s border with NATO would more than double with the addition of 1,340 kilometers (832 miles). This will be particularly challenging for Moscow because Finland shares a border with what is Russia’s most strategic region in terms of nuclear capacity.
For Moscow, military buildup in the region is one of the main strategies it relies on to projects its threat of expanding the war. It is also obvious that the Baltic countries, which do not pose a direct threat to Russia, will receive additional support with Sweden and Finland’s inclusion in NATO. Russia’s two strategic regions of St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad are in the Baltic region, leading to a security dilemma for both sides. We know that Russia officially opposes Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO. Their inclusion will challenge Moscow’s defense capacity and possibly force it to switch to a new strategy.
All of this means Russia will be more likely to take a strategic step back and be more inclined to negotiate in Ukraine in order to navigate this transformation or implement measures against these new threats. Huseyin Bagci: Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership will not help end the Ukraine war. On the contrary, their accession could prolong the war. The Ukraine-Russia war can be seen as a part of NATO’s grand strategy. When it began in February 2022, it radically changed all regional and global calculations that existed since the end of the Cold War. In particular, Finland and Sweden’s push to immediately join NATO is driven by concerns over Russia’s potential aggression against its other neighbors.
When they join NATO, Sweden will shed 200 years of neutrality and Finland more than 70 years, marking a turning point in European history. Their inclusion in NATO, therefore, will not end the war. On the contrary, it will take the war into a new phase. Russia will have a new 1,300-kilometer (over 800-mile) border with a NATO state, which will lead to a change in Moscow’s foreign policy. NATO expansion will push Russia to send more troops to this region and escalate its tensions with the alliance. According to statements emanating from Moscow, there is also the possibility of a spillover into a tactical nuclear war. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s remarks on Russian nuclear threats indicate the bloc will respond to any possible nuclear attack.
He has warned Russia “that a nuclear war can never be won and therefore should never be fought.” The threat of nuclear war is looming over Europe and all sides are aware of the danger. As a matter of fact, Germany, Finland, and Norway’s decisions to send Leopard 2 tanks, as well as the US’ approval for delivery of Abrams tanks to Ukraine, destroyed any hopes for talks to end the conflict. Discussions within NATO will now include giving warplanes to Ukraine as part of the alliance’s military support for Kyiv. Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership will definitely prolong the war, particularly as it seems that both Ukraine and Russia are not yet ready for peace talks.