STUTTGART, Germany – From now on, NATO is sharing all information pertaining to the ongoing war in Ukraine with close partners Sweden and Finland, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced Friday.
“In response to Russia’s aggression, we have decided to strengthen our coordination and information-sharing with Finland and Sweden,” Stoltenberg said at a press conference in Brussels, adding, “Both countries are now taking part in all NATO consultations about the crisis.”
The briefing occurred just before foreign ministers from NATO’s 30 member-nations gathered to discuss Russia’s war on Ukraine, with leaders from Helsinki, Stockholm, and the European Union also in attendance.
Stoltenberg’s announcement comes as calls have mounted for the two Nordic countries to formally join the alliance. Finland and Sweden are two of six Enhanced Opportunity Partners with NATO, representing the closest partnership a nation can have with the alliance without being a member. The other four EOPs are Australia, Georgia, Jordan, and Ukraine – the latter being selected in 2020.
Helsinki and Stockholm have been considered to be in a tier of their own within the EOPs. That’s thanks to “the sophistication of their militaries, the stability of their democratic political systems, and their critical geography of the Baltic Sea bridging NATO’s Nordic and Baltic countries,” analysts Anna Wieslander and Christopher Skaluba wrote in a March 3 report for the Atlantic Council.
The two nations have traditionally walked a fine line between lauding their close relationship to NATO, while maintaining that their citizens want to keep out of the alliance. But the report cites recent polls showing that up to 53 percent of Finns now support joining NATO – compared to only 19 percent in support in 2017. Meanwhile, Swedes are now 41 percent in support of joining the alliance, compared to 35 percent since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.
“Events on the ground in Ukraine will likely dictate whether and how soon Sweden and Finland apply for NATO membership, and how readily the alliance might admit them,” Wieslander and Skaluba wrote. “But with the contours of European security irrevocably altered since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the direction of thinking in both countries – especially Finland – is getting clearer by the day.”
Stoltenberg also shared that the NATO member-nations are now contemplating a more long-term increase to their military presence along the Eastern flank.
The alliance has dedicated a considerable presence in countries including Poland, Romania, and Estonia in response to Russian aggression towards Ukraine, with over 130 fighter jets and over 200 ships positioned to protect the 1 billion citizens across its 30 member states from potential attack, he added.
“We are now seriously considering a significant increase of our presence, both in more troops, [and] with more air defense,” he said. That discussion began Friday during the foreign ministers meeting, and will continue when NATO defense ministers meet on March 16.
“We have some time – not a lot, but some time – to make that more long-term decision,” he said.
The alliance also wants to step up its support for Georgia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, after determining that these two nations are, like Ukraine, at risk of “even more intervention, subversion or even attack by the Russian Armed Forces,” Stoltenberg said. The “broad agreement” to increase support could include more joint activities and exercises, and scaling up support for national defense and security institutions.
Stoltenberg restated that NATO is not seeking a war with Russia, and said foreign ministers on Friday rejected the idea to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
“Our core task is to keep our 30 nations safe,” he said. “We are not part of this conflict, and we have a responsibility to ensure it does not escalate and spread beyond Ukraine. Because that would be even more devastating and more dangerous.”
Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.