SALZBURG, Austria — Finland and Sweden must join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) now while Russia’s Putin focuses on Ukraine, the former alliance chief told CNBC.
The two Nordic countries are planning to join NATO following Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Becoming a member of NATO would represent a sharp reversal in their policy towards the Kremlin after years of adopting a neutral approach. Finland and Sweden are due to announce their plans in the coming days.
“As far as Finland and Sweden are concerned, I think there is a window of opportunity for [the] two countries to join, precisely now because Putin is preoccupied elsewhere. There’s nothing he can do about it,” Anders Rasmussen, former NATO secretary general, told CNBC on Saturday.
Russia has repeatedly stated that it is against NATO enlargement and has named it as one of the reasons for its invasion of Ukraine.
In addition, the Kremlin also said that if Stockholm and Helsinki join the alliance, then the situation would have to be “rebalanced”.
It’s unclear how the Kremlin would react if the two nations pursue membership.
However, joining them would double the current border between NATO and Russia and add considerably more military power to the alliance.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has previously said the two countries would be warmly welcomed.
But it could take “a few months” before their memberships become official, Rasmussen told CNBC.
“Even if it is considered an urgent procedure, and it is, it will take a few months because it has to go through 30 parliaments before it can be ratified across NATO,” he said. .
NATO currently has 30 members, including the United States.
“It will take a few months and during this period Finland and Sweden could potentially be exposed to Russian intimidation or even threats, and that is why we have to guarantee their security,” Rasmussen said, “as if they were already members of NATO”.
These security guarantees would have to come from individual NATO members because the alliance’s notorious Article 5 – which states that an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all – would not apply to Finland and to Sweden once their demands have been ratified by the 30 members of NATO.
Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine led to a change in defense policy in Europe. Countries announced far more spending on their military capabilities, sent weapons to Ukraine and – in the case of Finland and Sweden – this led to greater public support for joining NATO.
“You must also understand Swedish and Finnish [potential] decisions was a message that there is no neutral country on Russia’s border. And that’s a new reality, even during the Cold War it wasn’t like that,” Ivan Krastev, a political analyst, told CNBC on Friday.
“Before [Russia’s invasion of Ukraine] the difference between being a member of NATO and simply being a friend of the United States was unclear. Now, it is abundantly clear that being a member of NATO means Article Five, and merely being friends of the United States does not. And that’s why Finland and Sweden should turn from friends to members,” he added.