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Putin’s harassment has the opposite effect as Finland and Sweden move closer to joining NATO

But in one important way, Putin’s plan seems to have failed: the war united the West against Moscow in ways that seemed unimaginable in January.

Finland is expected to prepare a report on the country’s security policy this week, a key step on the path to a country that could potentially apply for NATO.

The report is expected to spark discussions in the Finnish parliament on whether to continue membership in the alliance – discussions that Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said she hoped would end “before mid-summer”.

Finnish Foreign Minister Peka Haavisto said on Monday that it was “important” for neighboring Sweden to follow a “similar process”, which he expects to take time. “But, of course, we exchange information all the time and hope that if we make such decisions, we can make them at the same time.”

Sweden is holding elections later this year, in which NATO is likely to be a key issue in the campaign, with major parties potentially not objecting to joining the alliance.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Anderson did not rule out the possibility of membership in an interview with SVT in late March. Sweden is undertaking an analysis of security policy, which should be completed by the end of May, and the government is expected to announce its position after the report, a Swedish official told CNN. They said their nation could make its position public sooner, depending on when neighboring Finland did.

Public opinion in both countries has changed significantly since the invasion, and NATO allies and officials generally support the two countries’ accession. The only serious objection may come from Hungary, whose leader is close to Putin, but NATO officials believe it will be able to shake hands with Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Given that Putin started the war by demanding that NATO return its borders to where they were in the 1990s, the fact that this is even considered a diplomatic catastrophe for Moscow. And if Finland in particular joins, Putin will suddenly find Russia sharing an additional 830-mile border with NATO.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned on Monday that NATO enlargement would not bring more stability to Europe.

“We have repeatedly said that the alliance itself is more of an instrument of confrontation. It is not an alliance that ensures peace and stability, and further enlargement of the alliance will, of course, not lead to more stability on the European continent,” he said. he said.

Rob Bauer, head of NATO’s military committee, told reporters on Tuesday that the alliance had not expelled new members, but said that ultimately Finland and Sweden had to decide whether they wanted to join, Reuters reported.

“This is a sovereign decision of any nation that wants to join NATO, to apply for membership, which they have not done so far … We are not forcing anyone to join NATO,” Bauer said.

Nor did Putin’s invasion motivate Ukraine to withdraw from its desire for closer integration with the West. Although the country is unlikely to join NATO, its efforts to join the European Union have accelerated since the start of the war. This will take a long time and may also face fierce opposition from Hungary, which is already in a nasty battle with Brussels over breaches of the rule of law, prompting the EU to propose a halt to central funding for Budapest.

However, again, the fact that this is being talked about and the level of support among EU leaders and officials is another indication of how united the West has become against Russia.

It is worth noting that since the beginning of the war, the West has remained largely united in its response to Russia, whether through economic sanctions or military support for Ukraine.

However, there are several challenges ahead that will test how united this alliance is against Russia.

First, if it turns out that Russia has used chemical weapons in Ukraine, there will be enormous pressure on the West, especially NATO, to take an even more active role in the war – something the alliance has been reluctant to do so far.

NATO members have already discussed the red lines and what action should be taken in the event of chemical weapons, but these details are still private to prevent Russia from taking preventive protective action.

However, any NATO intervention would almost certainly lead to a less stable security situation in Europe, as the West would risk a military confrontation with Russia, a nuclear power that is likely to respond by stepping up its attacks on Ukraine and possibly other areas. of traditional Russian influence.

Second, the cost of living crisis in many European countries may soon see the unity of future Western sanctions against Russia and the Russian energy embargo.

If, in the end, the economy of Western Europe is seen as more important than holding Russia accountable for waging war against its peaceful neighbor, then Putin may to some extent escape the invasion of an innocent country.

But for now, as this unity is largely valid, it is clear that Putin’s desire to belittle the Western alliance has backfired – and that the strong man has secured rogue status for his nation, probably for years to come.

Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report from Washington.