HELSINKI — The sudden elevation in intensity of top-level talks between Finland and Sweden has raised the bar on the expectation that the two unaligned Nordic states will jointly announce their decisions to join NATO by May 16.
The prospect for a “joint leap” by Sweden and Finland in to NATO will be discussed when the prime ministers of both countries, Magdalena Andersson and Sanna Marin, meet at Schloss Meseberg castle, near Berlin, to discuss security issues with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on May 3.
The possibility of Finland and Sweden presenting a joint announcement on NATO membership by mid-May was also discussed by Finnish and Swedish foreign ministers Pekka Haavisto and Ann Linde during talks in Helsinki on April 29.
“It is Finland’s wish that Finland and Sweden can adhere to the same timetable in respect of applying for membership to NATO,” said Haavisto at a press briefing following the meeting with Linde.
NATO’s offer to accelerate the membership process for Finland and Sweden was repeated when alliance Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg held talks with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, also commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces, on April 28.
“If Finland and Sweden decide to apply, then NATO will make the process of joining as quick as is feasible. My discussion with President Niinistö covered Finland’s possible application to join the alliance and any arrangements that could be made for the period between the submission of an application and its ratification. We have agreed to meet again soon,” Stoltenberg said.
Niinistö is scheduled to make a two-day visit to Sweden ending on May 18. The visit will include talks with Swedish officials on future Finnish-Swedish security cooperation and the prospect of forming common positions on developing their relationship with NATO.
Finland is expected to reach a decision on NATO membership in the first or second weeks in May. A final decision will be ratified by the Office of the President, on the basis of a recommendation by Prime Minister Marin; and more specifically the government’s Committee on Foreign and Security Policy.
In Sweden, the urgency over a possible membership application to NATO was evidenced on April 24 when its government decided to bring forward its national security policy assessment, described by Prime Minister Andersson as “the NATO solution.”
The security policy assessment report, which will involve representatives of all parties in Sweden’s parliament, the Riksdag, was originally due to be completed by the end of May. The new deadline is May 13.
Against the backdrop of the security assessment report, the Swedish government has rejected a proposal by the socialist Left Party (Vänsterpartiet) which called for a referendum on NATO membership.
“As the Swedish government sees it, a referendum is not a good idea. It would take time to organize and not fit the government’s plan to take advantage of the existing window of opportunity to consider a faster route to possible NATO membership,” said Johan Wänström, a political scientist at the University of Jönköping.
The Left Party’s principal argument in favor of holding a referendum is based on the pretext that most Swedes voted for political parties opposed to joining NATO in the most recent parliamentary elections in 2018.
“Based on the parties supported by the majority, who promised in their manifestoes not to join a military alliance like NATO, it is only logical that if politicians are going to change their positions, that needs to be put to the nation’s electorate,” said Nooshi Dadgostar, the Left Party’s leader.
Relations between Helsinki, Stockholm and Moscow, meanwhile, continue to deteriorate over the “NATO question.” Finland and Sweden are positioned to support further measures by the European Union and the United States to impose harsher trade and other sanctions on Russia.
Russia expelled four Swedish diplomats on April 25 in response to a decision by Sweden to withdraw the diplomatic status of three Russian diplomats in Stockholm. Sweden said the diplomats were expelled over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Sweden is also primed to send more advanced military weapons and systems to Ukraine in support of its defensive efforts against Russia. Military materials are expected to include de-mining equipment and around 5,000 unguided, man-portable, single-shot and disposable anti-tank weapons built by Saab Bofors Dynamics.
Sweden and Finland can expect an increase in activities by Russian intelligence in their countries as they move closer to NATO, said Wilhelm Agrell, a professor of military and security intelligence analysis at Lund University.
“The possibility of a neutral Sweden joining NATO is a high priority for Russia’s intelligence activities in Sweden – where it is both about influencing and gaining access to information to try to predict the actions of Swedish politicians. In this area I think a lot will happen in the coming months,” said Agrell.
Popular support for NATO membership continues to grow in Sweden. The latest survey by pollster Demoskop revealed 57% of Swedes now favor Sweden joining the alliance, up from 51% from a similar poll conducted by Demoskop in March.
A poll conducted by Finnish media group Helsingin Sanomat, covering the period April 22 to April 27, found that 65% of Finns support NATO membership. The result was a 6% increase on a previous Helsingin Sanomat poll released in March.
Gerard O'Dwyer is the Scandinavian affairs correspondent for Defense News.