Finland’s new Prime Minister will appoint a government cabinet this week, which may take the neutral Nordic country, Russia’s neighbor, in a new direction: towards NATO. In a recent policy statement, the new center-right coalition government said that the country may join NATO “at any time” over the next four years, shifting dramatically from its traditional neutral stance.
The move, which comes just a week after 900,000 Finnish reservists were sent letters to ensure they could be quickly contacted in the event of war, will likely surprise onlookers in Moscow who believed that the inclusion of the nationalist party and anti-NATO Finns Party in the new three-member coalition would see interest in joining the alliance waver.
"The previous government made sure that it did not apply for NATO membership during its time in office,” said Teija Tiilikainen, the director of the Finnish Institute for International Affairs, speaking to Defense News. “The new government's policy is different, it keeps the issue alive and the option open. It will be interesting to see how all this develops.”
Four years ago, when Finland’s previous government came to power, NATO membership was deliberately ruled out. Even two years ago, the subject was seldom discussed as a serious or necessary option for Finland. However. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014, the Kremlin’s continued involvement in the Ukraine war, and increased military activity in international waters and air space around Europe has seen public opinion shift.
A poll taken in September 2014 by Finnish-based pollster YLE showed that 43 percent of the Finnish public perceived Russia as a danger, up by 20 percentage points from March, when Russia annexed Crimea.
"All recent polls show that Finns are becoming increasingly concerned about Russian aggression in the region and want a stronger defense," said Kari Sundström, a Stockholm, Sweden-based political analyst. "Finns also want a higher level of spending for the military. Although majority backing for NATO membership is still lacking, over 55 percent of Finns support the holding of a referendum to decide the issue.”
Finland’s neighbor to the west, Sweden, announced Tuesday that it is ready to defend against any Russian aggression. Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Leuven said that the Scandinavian country has “a plan of action” and “a possible solution in the case of Russian provocations in the air.”