Most people in Sweden, Finland want to join NATO after war in Ukraine

Most people in Sweden and Finland now want to join NATO after war broke out in Ukraine – despite Russia’s threat it will ‘retaliate’ if they join the alliance

  • More than 50 per cent of Finns now support joining the Western military alliance 
  • The number of Swedes in favour of NATO membership outnumber those against
  • Support for joining has increased since the Russian invasion of Ukraine last week
  • Russia last week warned it would be forced to ‘retaliate’ if they joined the alliance
  • Click here for MailOnline’s liveblog with the latest updates on the Ukraine crisis 

Most people in Sweden and Finland now want to join NATO after war broke out in Ukraine – despite Russia’s threat it will ‘retaliate’ if they join the alliance.   

A poll commissioned by Finnish broadcaster YLE this week showed that, for the first time, more than 50 per cent of Finns support joining the Western military alliance. 

In neighboring Sweden, a similar poll showed those in favor of NATO membership outnumber those against.  

Apparently sensing a shift among its Nordic neighbors, the Russian Foreign Ministry last week voiced concern about what it described as efforts by the United States and some of its allies to ‘drag’ Finland and Sweden into NATO.

Moscow also warned that the Kremlin would be forced to take retaliatory measures if either Finland or Sweden joined the Western military alliance. 

The poll results come hours after four Russian fighter jets violated Sweden’s airspace over the Baltic Sea on Wednesday evenings, as Moscow forces continued to bombard cities in Ukraine. 

Support for NATO membership rises and falls in both states and there is no clear majority for joining in either of their parliaments but the signs of change since Russia began its invasion last week are unmistakable. 

A poll commissioned by Finnish broadcaster YLE this week showed that, for the first time, more than 50 per cent of Finns support joining the Western military alliance 

Most people in Sweden and Finland now want to join NATO after war broke out in Ukraine – after four Russian aircraft breached Swedish airspace over the east of Gotland on March 2

Sweden says four Russian fighter jets violated its airspace over the Baltic Sea on Wednesday 

Apparently sensing a shift among its Nordic neighbors, the Russian Foreign Ministry last week voiced concern about what it described as efforts by the United States and some of its allies to ‘drag’ Finland and Sweden into NATO

Through the Cold War and the decades since, nothing could persuade Finns and Swedes that they would be better off joining NATO – until now.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has profoundly changed Europe’s security outlook, including for Nordic neutrals Finland and Sweden, where support for joining NATO has surged to record levels. 

‘The unthinkable might start to become thinkable,’ tweeted former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, a proponent of NATO membership. 

The attack also prompted both states to break with their policy of not providing arms to countries at war by sending assault rifles and anti-tank weapons to Kyiv. 

For Sweden, it’s the first time offering military aid since 1939, when it assisted Finland against the Soviet Union.

It comes despite Russian threats of retaliation if either country tries to join NATO – though the governments of Sweden and Finland retorted that they won’t let Moscow dictate their security policy.

Late on Wednesday, four Russian fighter jets – two SU-27 and two SU-24 fighters – flew briefly over Swedish airspace east of the island of Gotland, according to a statement from the Swedish Armed Forces. 

‘In light of the current situation we are very concerned about the incident,’ Swedish Air Force chief Carl-Johan Edstrom said. ‘This is unprofessional and irresponsible behavior from the Russian side.’

Swedish fighter jets were scrambled and took photographs of the Russian jets, the statement said. 

‘This shows that our readiness is good. We were in place to secure the territorial integrity and Swedish borders,’ Edstrom said. ‘We have total control of the situation.’ 

‘The Russian violation of Swedish airspace is of course completely unacceptable,’ Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist told news agency TT.

‘It will lead to a firm diplomatic response from Sweden. Swedish sovereignty and territory must always be respected.’ 

Police officers remove the body of a passerby killed in Tuesday’s airstrike that hit Kyiv’s main television tower

The remains of a destroyed Russian military convoy are seen on a street in Bucha, to the south of Kyiv, on Wednesday morning

Members of an Ukrainian civil defense unit pass new assault rifles to the opposite side of a blown up bridge on Kyivs northern front on Tuesday

‘I want to be extremely clear: It is Sweden that itself and independently decides on our security policy line,’ Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said.

Finland has a conflict-ridden history with Russia, with which it shares a 830-mile (1,340km) border. 

Finns have taken part in dozens of wars against their eastern neighbor, for centuries as part of the Swedish Kingdom, and as an independent nation during the world wars, including two fought with the Soviet Union from 1939-40 and 1941-44.

In the postwar period, however, Finland pursued pragmatic political and economic ties with Moscow, remaining militarily nonaligned and a neutral buffer between East and West.

Sweden has avoided military alliances for more than 200 years, choosing a path of peace after centuries of warfare with its neighbors.

Both countries put an end to traditional neutrality by joining the European Union in 1995 and deepening cooperation with NATO. However, a majority of people in both countries remained firmly against full membership in the alliance – until Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

The YLE poll showed 53 per cent were in favor of Finland joining NATO, with only 28 per cent against. 

The poll had an error margin of 2.5 percentage points and included 1,382 respondents interviewed February 23 to 25. Russia’s invasion began on February 24.

‘It’s a very significant shift,’ said senior researcher Matti Pesu from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. 

‘We’ve had a situation in the past 25-30 years where Finns’ opinions on NATO have been very stable. It seems to now to have changed completely.’

While noting that it’s not possible to draw conclusions from a single poll, Pesu said no similar shift in public opinion occurred after Russia’s 2008 war with Georgia and the 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, ‘so this is an exception.’

Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Monday evening that a planned debate in parliament the following day would cover the situation in Ukraine and was not intended as a ‘wider conversation on Finland’s policy regarding military alignment or non-alignment’

Protesters hold Ukrainian flags and anti war banners during a demonstration to protest the Russian invasion in Ukraine, in central Stockholm, Sweden, on March 1, 2022.

In Sweden, a late February poll commissioned by the Swedish public broadcaster SVT found 41 per cent of Swedes supported NATO membership and 35 per cent opposed it, marking the first time that those in favor exceeded those against.

The Nordic duo, important partners for NATO in the Baltic Sea area where Russia has substantially increased its military maneuvers in the past decade, has strongly stressed that it is up to them alone to decide whether to join the military alliance.

In his New Year’s speech, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto pointedly said that ‘Finland’s room to maneuver and freedom of choice also include the possibility of military alignment and of applying for NATO membership, should we ourselves so decide.’

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg noted last week that for Helsinki and Stockholm ‘this is a question of self-determination and the sovereign right to choose your own path and then potentially in the future, also to apply for NATO.’

There are no set criteria for joining NATO, but aspiring candidates must meet certain political and other considerations.

Many observers believe Finland and Sweden would qualify for fast-track entry into NATO without lengthy negotiations and membership could be a reality within months.

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said this week that her Social Democratic Party would discuss possible NATO membership with other parties but didn’t set a time frame. She said everyone agrees that the events of the past weeks have been a game-changer.

‘Together we see that the security situation has changed remarkably since Russia attacked Ukraine. It is a fact that we have to acknowledge,’ Marin said. 

A man is visibly upset as he sits inside a vehicle damaged by shelling, in Brovary, outside Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday

People walk by a damaged vehicle and an armored car at a checkpoint in Brovary, outside Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday

A destroyed Ukrainian infantry fighting vehicle is seen next to a spent missile casing in Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, which came under attack from ‘cluster’ munitions on Monday

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