Putin pushes his neighbors into the arms of NATO

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, May 10, 2022.

This is WORLD Radio and we thank you for joining us today. Hello, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First on The world and all in it: military alliances.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is nearing the three-month mark with no end in sight. The Kremlin justified the invasion in part by claiming it was a security issue: Ukraine, the Russians say, is heading towards NATO membership and that is a threat.

REICHARD: But Russia’s resort to bloody invasion and war may have the opposite effect: instead of deterring its neighbors from joining the West, it appears to be propelling other countries directly into the arms of NATO .

Report by WORLD correspondent, Jill Nelson.

JILL NELSON, JOURNALIST: Finland has a long history of staying out of military alliances. It decided not to join NATO after World War II and again after the Cold War and instead pursued its own strong defenses and dialogue with Moscow.

Elisabeth Braw is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and focuses on defense. She says the Finnish public supported the government’s position.

BRAW: Public opinion was such that it was simply unthinkable that the government would ever think of bringing the country into NATO. Public support was in the twenties, sometimes reaching 26, 27%, but never above. And so it was just never up for discussion.

But that changed after the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine, a peaceful neighbour.

BRAW: It became clear very soon after that the Finnish public was starting to think differently about NATO. Thus, within weeks, public support had risen to 68%. It’s truly unprecedented, this kind of shift in public opinion from the 1920s to 68%.

Finland’s parliament is expected to submit a request to NATO in mid-May. This took Sweden by surprise. Its dominant political party has also long opposed NATO. But Braw says he knows that if Finland applies for NATO membership, so should Sweden.

BRAW: And the reality is that it would be very difficult, militarily, very difficult for Sweden to stay out of NATO if Finland joined. Thus, indeed, Sweden will have to apply with Finland, the most remarkable development ever achieved.

Moscow says NATO borders are getting too close. And some analysts warn that further NATO expansion will only provoke Russia further.

Bradley Bowman is a former US Army officer and defense expert with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He does not agree with these assertions.

BOWMAN: NATO is not a threat to Russia. But I think the reason Putin resents NATO is that when a country becomes a member of NATO, it stops Putin from invading, intimidating and occupying that country.

When a country joins NATO, all members of the alliance are required to protect that country. The former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined NATO in 2004 and still have secure borders.

Ukraine and Georgia are not members of NATO. Russia invaded Georgia in 2008. And in 2014 Moscow invaded Ukraine and illegally annexed its Crimean peninsula. Nearly 14,000 Ukrainians died in this round of violence.

In February, Russia launched another war in Ukraine with the biggest European invasion since World War II. Bowman says it’s not hard to do the math.

BOWMAN: What does all of this have in common? It’s all unprovoked Russian aggression against non-NATO members. Putin himself is therefore the most persuasive billboard possible for the value of NATO membership.

Finland and Sweden are no strangers to Russian aggression. Finland declared independence from Russia in 1917, and in 1939 the Soviet Union invaded Finland and retained about 10% of its territory. Finland and Russia share an 800 mile border.

Relations between the two countries have been less stormy since then, but Russia has frequently invaded the airspace of Finland and Sweden, sent submarines into their waters and launched cyberattacks.

Moscow has threatened to deploy nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles to its Baltic base in Kaliningrad if the two Nordic countries join NATO. But Bradley Bowman says threats from the Russian president should not determine the future of Western alliances.

BOWMAN: Who do you think should decide whether a country joins a defensive alliance? Should it be the free people of this country and their duly elected representatives, or should it be Vladimir Putin? And I say it should be the first.

Elizabeth Braw grew up in Sweden and says Russia has made threats against Finland and Sweden to discourage NATO membership for years. She thinks this is the perfect opportunity for the two countries to join the security alliance because Russia is too mired in Ukraine to direct resources elsewhere.

BRAW: That’s why it looks totally pathetic and desperate when various officials make these statements and threats, because it’s so obvious that Russia is heavily involved in Ukraine, over its head in fact, and would not be not in a position to assume any. another war

NATO says it will welcome the two Nordic countries and speed up the review process. Leaders of the 30-member alliance have not released a timetable, but say they will protect Sweden and Finland in the meantime.

And if the Nordic countries have everything to gain from their membership, Bradley Bowman affirms that NATO too, for two main reasons.

BOWMAN: The first is that both countries have large armies. They are not huge armies, but they are advanced armies. And then geographically, you only have to look at a map to understand that adding Finland in particular would really create geographical continuity between Norway, which is already a member of NATO, and the Baltic States, which are already members of NATO, and would provide significant geographical advantages in the Baltic Sea…

Bowman says NATO expansion could be one of the best ways to deter future aggression from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

BOWMAN: Perhaps the quickest way to provoke Putin is through weakness. He is a former KGB colonel who respects force. And if you don’t want more of what I’ve described, these invasions, occupations and violations of international borders in Europe, the best way to prevent that is with force.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Jill Nelson.

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Martin E. Berry