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Russia’s Ukraine invasion is driving NATO expansion. Moves by Sweden and Finland to abandon neutrality are evidence

The smaller countries on Moscow’s western periphery are afraid — very afraid — of Russian military power.

NATO membership is a defensive measure for these countries and not aimed as a challenge to Russia.

President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is not only turning out to be a military blunder, but also a political disaster for Russia. It is producing strategic outcomes that Putin’s war apparently aimed to prevent — the further expansion of Western military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). The decision by Finland and Sweden — two countries that steadfastly remained neutral in the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West during the second half of the 20th century — to join NATO marks an important moment in the strategic evolution of Europe since the Ukraine crisis began.

More from Express Opinion |On Ukraine, India must choose a side

The smaller countries on Moscow’s western periphery are afraid — very afraid — of Russian military power. For them, membership of NATO is about protection from the Russian threat. NATO membership is a defensive measure for these countries and not aimed as a challenge to Russia. Russia, with its massive army and thousands of nuclear weapons, is well positioned to deter and defend against attack on its territory. Its neighbours don’t have that luxury. Putin’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine has reinforced the fears of the smaller countries and raised their incentives for seeking NATO membership. Equally important, Moscow might not have attacked Ukraine if it was already a member of NATO. Gaining membership of NATO has become a matter of greater urgency for Russia’s western neighbours. NATO’s principle of collective defence — that attack on any member will rally the rest — has now become even more valuable for Russia’s eastern neighbours.

Finland and Sweden remained neutral after the Second World War despite the fact that two of their two immediate neighbours —Denmark and Norway — were founding members of NATO that was set up in 1949. They also chose to stay away from NATO, when three neighbours and former members of the Soviet Union — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — joined NATO in 2004. But Putin’s muscular policies of recent years and Russia’s aggression against Ukraine have tilted the scales. Moscow’s ill-considered threats against joining NATO have only helped steel the resolve of Finland and Sweden to end their traditional neutrality. Finland and Sweden are important partners for India. Their neutrality during the Cold War had much in common with India’s tradition of non-alignment. India had worked with Sweden closely on many global peace and security issues in the past. Delhi and Stockholm were active members of a coalition between neutral and non-aligned nations in the multilateral fora. They joined hands to promote nuclear arms control between Washington and Moscow. The strategic parallel seems to endure. Much in the manner that India has tilted to the US to secure itself against a growing Chinese military threat, the much smaller Finland and Sweden are embracing NATO to save themselves from their aggressive Russian neighbour.

This column first appeared in the print edition on May 16, 2022, under the title ‘Blame it on Putin’.

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First published on: 16-05-2022 at 04:49:32 am
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