Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Economist: Just visiting - Russian aggression is pushing Finland and Sweden towards NATO

To read the entire item, kindly click on the link below:


http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21701803-russian-aggression-pushing-finland-and-sweden-towards-nato-just-visiting

Russian aggression is pushing Finland and Sweden towards NATO

HELSINKI AND SUWALKI | From the print edition


From the article:


VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia’s president, rarely visits the European Union these days. When he does, it is unclear whether he wishes to mend fences or issue threats. During a visit on July 1st to Finland, which has a 1,340km (883-mile) border with Russia, Mr Putin did both: he made reassurance sound like a threat.
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It is not just empty rhetoric. Late last year, Russia allowed some 2,000 asylum-seekers of various nationalities through its side of a checkpoint, forcing the Finns to admit them lest they be trapped in no-man’s land. Given how tightly Russia controls its checkpoints, Finnish officials concluded that the Kremlin was sending a signal that it could respond to any move to join NATO by asymmetrical means. Teija Tiilikainen, director of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, says it “looked like part of a Russian ‘hybrid action’”—the Russian strategy of using non-military methods to achieve military goals. Finland has also been subject to Russian cyber-attacks.
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Finland does not think Russia will attack it, not least because of Finland’s military strength. But it is nervous about an accidental escalation, or a spillover of the rising tension in the Baltics. NATO has been beefing up its presence there; it is particularly worried about the Suwalki Gap, a 100km stretch along the Polish-Lithuanian border between Belarus and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. The gap is currently guarded by a Polish anti-tank artillery squadron equipped with outdated Soviet-era arms. A Russian thrust through to Kaliningrad would cut off overland access from western Europe to the Baltics.
“At present the Baltic states are effectively indefensible,” says François Heisbourg of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a think-tank. If Russia takes the gap, the only way to supply them would be through Sweden and Finland.
Finland knows that joining NATO would be seen as a red line by Moscow, and might provoke an asymmetrical response.

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Finland knows that joining NATO would be seen as a red line by Moscow, and might provoke an asymmetrical response. Mr Niinisto has promised to hold a referendum on NATO membership should the government decide to favour it. At present, public opinion would most likely be against it. But this could change if Sweden, Finland’s closest ally, were to join.

In the meantime, Finland’s policy consists of discussing NATO membership and improving its ties and deepening its bilateral military relationship with America, all while trying to maintain a special relationship with Russia. 
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Finland is justifiably proud of handling its difficult eastern neighbour while transforming itself into a prosperous Western country, with one of the strongest territorial armies in Europe.