April 15, 2022 | OPINION | By AJ Fabbri | Illustration by Iris Guo
On April 8, 2022, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky hopped on a teleconferencing meeting to speak to Finnish lawmakers, aiming to garner more support from the international community over a month into Russia’s brutal invasion. During this speech, the websites of Finland’s foreign ministry and defense ministry went dark. At the same time, an unauthorized foreign aircraft allegedly violated the country’s airspace. These events come as Finland considers joining the 30-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which it should do as soon as possible given the new security challenges with which Europe finds itself.
What ties all these events—Europe’s new security landscape, Zelensky’s speeches, cyberattacks, and airspace violations—together? Russia. More specifically, Russian president Vladimir Putin’s atrocious, pitifully justified invasion of Ukraine.
Formed during the Cold War to counter Soviet aggression, the NATO alliance is especially famous for its Article 5 mutual defense pact, which states that members will treat any attack against any member state as an attack on them all. Since its inception, NATO was designed to protect friendly countries against Russian invasion; however, Article 5 only applies to full NATO allies, not strategic partners like Ukraine or Finland.
If Russia was willing to invade Ukraine, which, in line with Putin’s demands, made no real moves to join NATO, they could do the same to any other neighboring countries. Despite Ukraine’s appeasement of Putin, from not joining NATO to effectively allowing Russia to annex Crimea, it became the victim of a Russian invasion.
Witnessing the war crimes and atrocities that Russia is inflicting on Ukraine, others fear that they could be next. Sharing an 830-mile border with Russia, Finland is especially on edge. The Kremlin has repeatedly threatened Finland with economic and military consequences if they join NATO and, until the Feb. 24 invasion, the threats were working. Now that Russia has demonstrated that its threatened consequences could happen even if a country abides by the Kremlin’s wishes, Finland is rightfully rethinking its position.
During his time as a KGB agent, Putin experienced the collapse of his beloved Soviet Union from the front lines. After the Union of Soviet Socialists Republic fell, the Russian Federation adopted Western political and economic models, which Western liberals had promised would lead to prosperity. Instead, the opposite happened. Amid widespread hardship in the early post-Soviet years, Russians felt that the West had duped them into believing that neoliberal policies would improve their quality of life.
Having witnessed firsthand his country’s protracted fall from glory at the hands of the United States, its NATO allies, and the West at large, Putin became Russia’s leader in 2000. Bitter, but determined to turn his country around and eliminate threatening Western influence, he started by limiting the presence of foreign officials and organizations, especially American ones. In 2002, the Kremlin kicked the Peace Corps, one of its first high-profile targets, out of the country.
In 2014, Ukraine’s Putin-friendly leader, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted amid anti-corruption and pro-European Union protests. Putin saw the threat of westernization amassing on his doorstep. In retaliation, he infamously annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and started a separatist proxy conflict in eastern Ukraine. Putin has long demonstrated his desire to mitigate Western influence, a desire so strong that it motivated a full-scale invasion.
Fearing that Finland could become the next victim of Putin’s warmongering, the country’s cabinet has finalized a white paper that outlines its new security policies, which will soon be sent to parliament for debate. The document does not contain a proposal to join NATO, but the cabinet is prepared to add that to the document when it is sure that it has enough parliamentary support. The government should implement the measure as fast as possible, since about half of Finnish lawmakers already openly support such an application.
830 more miles of border with NATO is the exact opposite of what Putin wants, but the atrocities of the war in Ukraine have motivated Finland to initiate the process of joining the alliance. As he did with Ukraine in the lead-up to the invasion, Putin is now threatening Finland with violence if it joins NATO, but Russia’s actions in Ukraine send the strong implication that it might use force to prevent the Nordic country from joining in the first place. Regardless of Finland’s choice, the threat levels from Russia remain high. Finland should thus make a bid to join NATO as soon as possible to secure the protection of member states. In this dilemma, due to the threat of what could happen were Finland not to join, it no longer has much to lose.