Putin waking up to a security disaster as Finland, Sweden move to join NATO

Russian President Vladimir Putin is waking up to a security disaster. In February, he said that his country’s “special operation” against Ukraine was a preemptive move to terminate NATO’s “endless” expansion in Russia’s former stomping ground – Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

As a result of Russia’s aggression, however, that is exactly what is going to happen.

Finland and Sweden have said they want to join the 30-member security bloc – a process that may take up to a year.

Once they are in, NATO forces may be right next to the Finnish-Russian border that stretches 1,340km (833 miles) across pine forests and frigid lakes.

Upon its inception at the Cold War’s dawn in 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had only 12 members.

After the 1991 Soviet collapse, 11 Eastern European nations that used to be Moscow’s satellites and three Soviet republics joined the alliance.

The Kremlin saw the expansion as an existential threat, and a call to end it was part of Putin’s laundry list of demands handed to the collective West, prior to the February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

So, the announcements by Stockholm and Helsinki deal a double blow to Putin’s reputation both abroad and at home.

“This marks Putin’s defeat on two fronts – foreign and domestic,” Sergei Biziukin, a publicist and opposition activist who fled Russia in 2019, told Al Jazeera.

Just years ago, some political forces saw NATO as an obsolete relic of the Cold War.

Not anymore, because Europe – with the exception of Putin-friendly Hungary and Serbia – realised the danger of Russia’s newfound assertiveness and what some have called disrespect of the post-WWII world order.

In Russia, even the most eloquent pro-Kremlin figures will find it difficult to explain to the audiences of state-approved television networks how Putin’s worst security nightmare is coming true.

Some Russians already respond to the development that will reshape Europe’s security landscape with nothing but dark humour.

“Once again, it all makes me think that Putin is a German spy. No one has done as much to ruin Russia and to bring NATO to our doorstep,” Konstantin, a restaurant chef in St Petersburg, who preferred to withhold his last name, said sarcastically.

And Finland’s and Sweden’s neighbours see their choice as something completely understandable and rational – given how unpredictable Putin has become.

The two nations are simply trying to protect themselves from an old enemy, said Ivar Dale, a senior policy adviser with the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, a rights watchdog.

“After the invasion of Ukraine, Putin’s assurances are worthless,” he told Al Jazeera. “Systematic lying was perhaps useful as a strategy for a while, but it has come back and completely ruined Russia’s standing internationally.”


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