June 28, 2022 News of Russia and Ukraine

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (third from left) shakes hands with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson (right), next to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (center) and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö (second from right) after signing a memorandum in which Turkey agrees with Finland and Sweden's Membership of the Defense Alliance in Madrid, Spain, 28 June.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (third from left) shakes hands with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson (right), next to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (center) and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö (second from right) after signing a memorandum in which Turkey agrees with Finland and Sweden’s Membership of the Defense Alliance in Madrid, Spain, 28 June. (Bernat Armange / AP)

Finland and Sweden are poised to end decades of neutrality by joining NATO, a dramatic change in European security and geopolitics brought about by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The two Scandinavian nations have long held a military alliance at arm’s length, even looking warily at Russia to the east.

But Moscow’s attack on Ukraine has raised new security concerns in the region, with each country’s leaders voicing their desire to join the bloc after more than 75 years of military non-alignment.

Here’s what you need to know about how the war in Ukraine caused the shift and what’s next.

NATO has a so-called “open door policy” for new members: any European country can apply for membership if it meets certain criteria and all existing members agree with it.

Technically, a country does not “apply” for membership; Article 10 of its founding treaty states that once a country has expressed an interest, the existing member states “may, by unanimous consent, invite any other European state capable of advancing the principles of this Treaty … to join”.

NATO diplomats told Reuters that the ratification of new members could take a year, as the legislatures of all 30 current members must approve the new candidates.

Both Finland and Sweden already meet many of the requirements for membership, which includes the existence of a functioning democratic political system based on a market economy; fair treatment of minorities; the obligation to resolve conflicts peacefully; the ability and willingness to make a military contribution to NATO operations; and a commitment to democratic civil-military relations and institutions.

The process was not without obstacles; Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that he does not look at the two countries’ entry into NATO “positively”, accusing them of hosting Kurdish “terrorist organizations”. But on Tuesday he supported the applications of the nations at the NATO Summit in Madrid, Spain.

The United States and the United Kingdom expressed their support for their application for membership.

What does NATO membership entail?

The reason most countries join NATO is because Article 5 North Atlantic Treaty, which states that all signatories consider an attack on one as an attack on all.

Article 5 has been the cornerstone of the alliance since NATO was founded in 1949 as a counterweight to the Soviet Union.

The point of the treaty, and especially Article 5, was to keep the Soviets from attacking liberal democracies with no military power. Article 5 ensures that the resources of the entire alliance, including the vast US military, can be used to protect any individual member state, such as small countries that would be defenseless without their allies. Iceland, for example, does not have a standing army.

Former Swedish leader Carl Bildt told CNN that he does not see the possibility of building large new military bases in any of the countries if they join NATO. He said joining the alliance would likely mean more joint military training and planning between Finland, Sweden and the 30 current NATO members. Swedish and Finnish forces may also participate in other NATO operations around the world, such as in the Baltic States, where multinational troops are stationed at several bases.

It is worth noting that Russia criticized the decision of Finland and Sweden to join NATO. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Monday the move would be a “mistake” with “far-reaching consequences,” according to the state-run TASS news agency.

According to the alliance, Russia currently shares about 755 miles of land border with five NATO members. Finland’s accession would mean that the country with which Russia shares an 830-mile border would become a formal military ally of the United States.

Adding Finland and Sweden would also benefit the alliance, which would upset Russia. Both are serious military forces despite their small populations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that “Russia has no problems with these states,” adding that NATO expansion “poses no direct threat to Russia.”

“But the expansion of military infrastructure into this territory will definitely provoke our reaction,” he added at the CSTO in Moscow. “Let’s see what it will be based on the threats that will be created for us.”

Read full report here.

CNN’s Rob Picheta, Luke McGee, Nick Robertson, Paul LeBlanc, Per Bergfors Nyberg and Niamh Kennedy, and Reuters contributed to this report.