According to the Swedish newspaper Expressen, a Swedish delegation traveled to Finland last week to hold a meeting with the neighboring country and discuss the prospect of NATO membership.
According to the newspaper, the purpose of the meeting was to signal that Sweden was ready to follow Finland into NATO if the country decided to join the Alliance.
As Russia’s aggression in Ukraine intensifies, speculation on a Swedish and Finnish bid to enter the defense alliance grows.
But how did Russia’s attack on its neighbor affect Stockholm’s and Helsinki’s position on NATO? Does Jens Stoltenberg’s decision to stay at the helm of the Alliance benefit Norwegian security interests? And how do the recent security developments in Ukraine and Europe affect the security situation in the High North?
Norway Today reached out to chief researcher Kristian Åtland at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment (FFI) to get expert insights and better understand the situation.
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NT: In your opinion, how did the Russian invasion of Ukraine affect the prospects of Sweden and Finland joining NATO?
KÅ: Clearly, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has raised new security concerns among Russia’s neighbors in Eastern and Northern Europe, including Sweden and Finland, and spurred new debates about the possibility of NATO membership.
Finnish and/or Swedish NATO membership is now a distinct possibility, and it may happen in the not-too-distant future if the countries’ political authorities decide to go down that road. Both countries have much to offer to the defense of Northern Europe, and NATO would have much to gain from letting them into the Alliance.
Needless to say, Russia would not be pleased with such a development, but it largely has itself to thank for this turn of events, having invaded Ukraine and upended the security situation in Europe.
NT: In your opinion, from a security perspective, are there any important benefits or downsides of Jens Stoltenberg staying on as Secretary-General of NATO?
KÅ: Having a Norwegian at the helm of NATO is clearly in Norway’s interest. It is good that Jens Stoltenberg has agreed to prolong his term as Secretary-General of the Alliance. But most importantly, it would have been difficult for NATO to change its Secretary-General in this turbulent and vulnerable time for Europe, caused by Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine.
NT: Overall, how would you assess the current security situation in the High North?
KÅ: Despite the general deterioration of Russia’s relationship with the West and NATO, the security situation in the High North remains stable. The previously established pattern of Russian operations in the northern waters and airspace has not changed, and the Russian forces on the Kola Peninsula do not appear to pose an immediate threat to Norway’s land territory.
Having their hands full with the war in Ukraine, Russia’s Armed Forces do not want to destabilize the European Arctic, as this region plays a key role in Russia’s nuclear deterrence strategy.
NT: The field exercise part of Cold Response 2022 (CR 22) ended on March 31. Do you have any important takeaways based on what we saw in March?
KÅ: Apart from the tragic loss of a US Marine Corps “Osprey” helicopter and its crew, the 2022 edition of the “Cold Response” exercise was generally a successful training event, involving some 30,000 troops from 27 NATO member and partner nations. The involved units improved their skills and demonstrated a convincing ability to operate together in harsh weather conditions, well north of the Arctic Circle.
I would perhaps have expected a more pronounced Russian military presence in and over the Norwegian and Barents Seas during the exercise, similar to what we saw during the “Trident Juncture” exercise in the fall of 2018. But the Russians kept a relatively low profile this time, despite the fact that the Norwegian-led exercise took place farther north than the exercise in 2018.
NT: In general, how would you assess the importance of CR22 and similar military exercises at this point in time?
KÅ: The “Cold Response” exercise gives a unique opportunity for Norway’s allies to familiarize themselves with the North European operational environment. This is in itself significant.
Given its size and complexity, the exercise also gives an opportunity to “stress-test” Norway’s ability to receive, support, and interoperate with a reasonably large multinational force. Lessons are learned, and valuable experiences are gathered at all levels. Exercises such as this may also contribute to a deeper understanding of the High North as a security arena and serve as a demonstration of NATO’s ability and willingness to defend the northern flank of the Alliance, Åtland told Norway Today.
Robin-Ivan Capar is a contributor and editor at Norway Today.
Source: #Norway Today / #NorwayTodayNews
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