But in one important respect, Putin’s plan appears to have failed: The war against Moscow united the West in ways that seemed unimaginable in January.
Finland is expected to release a report on the country’s security policy this week, a major step on the path for the country potentially applying to join NATO.
This report is expected to start discussions in the Finnish parliament about whether to pursue membership in the coalition – discussions that Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said she hopes will be over “before midsummer”.
Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said on Monday it was “important” that neighboring Sweden followed a “similar process” which he expected to take some time. “But of course we exchange information all the time, and hopefully, if we make similar kinds of decisions, we can implement them around the same time.”
Sweden is holding elections later this year, with NATO likely to be a major campaign issue, with the main parties not objecting to joining the alliance.
Public opinion in both countries has changed dramatically since the invasion, and NATO allies and officials generally support the two countries’ accession. The only serious objection may come from Hungary, whose leader is close to Putin, but NATO officials believe it will be able to bend the arm of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Given that Putin started his war, demanding that NATO return its borders to what they were in the 1990s, the fact that this was considered a diplomatic disaster for Moscow. And if Finland in particular does join, Putin will find that Russia suddenly shares an additional 830 miles of border with NATO.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned on Monday that NATO enlargement would not bring more stability to Europe.
“We have said over and over again that the alliance itself is more than just a tool of confrontation. This is not an alliance that provides peace and stability, and the expansion of the alliance will of course not lead to more stability on the European continent.” He said.
Rob Bauer, head of NATO’s Military Committee, told reporters on Tuesday that the alliance was not ruling out new members, but said it was ultimately up to Finland and Sweden to decide whether they wanted to join, Reuters reported.
“It is a sovereign decision for any country that wants to join NATO to apply for membership, which it has not done so far… We are not forcing anyone to join NATO,” Power said.
Nor has Putin’s invasion caused Ukraine to back down from its desire for closer integration with the West. While the country is unlikely to join NATO, its efforts to join the European Union have accelerated since the start of the war. This could take too long and could also face stiff opposition from Hungary, which is already locked in a bad fight with Brussels over its violations of the rule of law, leading the European Union to propose suspending central funding for Budapest.
However, again, the fact that it is being talked about and the level of support among EU leaders and officials is another indication of how united the West is against Russia.
It is worth noting that since the start of the war, the West has remained largely united in its response to Russia, whether through economic sanctions or military support for Ukraine.
However, there are some challenges ahead that will test how united this alliance really is against Russia.
First, if it turns out that Russia has used chemical weapons in Ukraine, there will be tremendous pressure on the West, particularly NATO, to take a more active role in the war—something the alliance has been reluctant to do so far.
NATO members have already discussed red lines and actions to take in the event of chemical weapons, but these details remain classified to prevent Russia from taking precautionary measures.
However, any NATO intervention would almost certainly lead to a less stable security situation in Europe, where the West would risk a military confrontation with Russia – a nuclear power, which would likely retaliate by intensifying its attacks on Ukraine and perhaps in other areas traditional Russian influence.
Second, the cost-of-living crisis in many European countries could soon test the unity of future Western sanctions on Russia and the embargo on Russian energy.
If the economy of Western Europe is, after all, deemed more important than holding Russia accountable for waging war on its peaceful neighbour, Putin might get away with somewhat of an invasion of an innocent nation.
But for now, with that unity largely still going, it is clear that Putin’s desire to downplay the Western alliance has backfired — and that the strongman has secured his nation a pariah status, perhaps for years to come.
Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report from Washington.
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