Spring this year could herald a new security order for Finland and Sweden as both countries prepare to apply for NATO membership.
In January, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin reiterated her country’s traditional position that it had no intention of joining the security alliance. But in early April, she noted that “everything had changed” since Russia attacked Ukraine.
“Finland must be prepared for all sorts of actions from Russia,” she told reporters during a visit to Sweden, adding that Helsinki would decide on NATO membership.” in a few weeks”.
While public support for Finland’s NATO membership hovered between 20 and 30 percent, recent polls have shown that since the start of the war in Ukraine, around 70 percent of Finns want their country to join. NATO.
Al Jazeera spoke to former Prime Minister of Finland Alexander Stubb to understand what led to this drastic change.
Stubb, who also served as Finland’s foreign and finance minister, is currently a professor and director of the School of Transnational Governance, based at the European University Institute in Florence.
Al Jazeera: How would you describe the national awakening in Finland towards NATO membership? What changed?
Alexander Stubb: I think Finland’s decision to join NATO was taken on February 24, at five o’clock in the morning, when [Russian President Vladimir] Putin attacked Ukraine. It was then that public opinion made a 180 degree turn.
From 50% against and 20% for, to 50% for and 20% against. Currently we are 68% for and 12% against, and when our political leaders present the candidacy with Sweden in mid-May, I predict that our numbers will be over 80% in favor of joining the NATO.
The basic line of thought is that if Putin can slaughter his brothers, sisters and cousins in Ukraine, he can also do so in Finland and Sweden.
For Finns, it brings back memories of World War II. Membership of NATO would therefore be a means of increasing our own security and the security of the Alliance.
Al Jazeera: But this is not the first time that Russia has attacked Ukraine. In 2014, when you were Prime Minister of Finland, Russia annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea. Did you consider joining NATO at the time?
Stub: I was one of the few people in Finland who always defended Finland’s membership in NATO. In fact, I think we should have joined NATO in 1995, when we became members of the European Union.
In 2008, I tried to lobby for NATO membership. At the time, I was Finland’s foreign minister and chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and had brokered peace in the war in Georgia.
After these mediation talks, I gave a speech [on August 8, 2008]who was called 080808. In the speech, I explained how Russian aggression is back and Finland should consider NATO membership. But I had a lot of resistance and since then, even when Russia attacked Ukraine in 2014, I didn’t try to push for NATO membership because I was in the minority.
However, things are different now.
Looking at how Russia attacked Ukraine in 2022, it seems that this invasion provoked the Finnish people and changed their opinion. When public opinion changes, political leaders also change their opinion.
Al Jazeera: Prime Minister Sanna Marin spoke about Finland’s NATO membership when a security report warned that Finland’s potential membership could further aggravate Russia, causing tension along the border between Finland and Russia.
Do you think the Prime Minister should have waited for the current war in Ukraine to calm down?
Stub: I think, you know, we’re past that debate right now. We don’t expect any conventional military threats, or attacks, because we have one of the largest standing armies in Europe – 900,000, reserves of 280,000 to mobilise, we just bought 64 F-35s and we have the excellent missile defense systems.
I think we are more ready for NATO than most of the member states of the alliance themselves.
But what we will see from the time we apply in mid-May, until the time we become NATO members, there will be hybrid threats. There will be cyber threats, and there will be information warfare, and we are prepared for that.
For example, when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was speaking in the Finnish Parliament about two and a half weeks ago, the homepages of the Finnish Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs were taken down. And, you know, of course, it was a Russian attack.
At the same time there was a violation of our airspace, obviously Russians again.
So those are the kinds of threats that we will continue to receive and we are ready. Overall, Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO membership will also increase the security of the region.
Al Jazeera: Is there any opposition Finland might encounter from NATO members regarding its bid for ascension?
Alexander Stubb: I am subjective, but it is very difficult to make a rational argument against Finland and Sweden joining NATO. Besides powerful military troops, we both have the largest western telecommunications service companies in the world – Nokia and Ericsson, which is important for the general security infrastructure.
On top of that, we actually have experience of waging wars with Russia, given our own history with the Kremlin. NATO members are aware of our capabilities and will not be cool-headed about our membership.