U.S. Embraces Finland’s Move Toward NATO Membership. What About Ukraine?

WASHINGTON – By backing Finland and soon Sweden’s entry into NATO, President Biden and his Western allies are doubling down on their bets that Russia has made a major strategic mistake over the past three months. and now is the time to make President Vladimir V. Putin pay a great price: endure the expansion of the Western alliance he has sought to disrupt.

But the decision leaves some big questions. Why not allow Ukraine – the flawed, corrupt but heroic democracy at the heart of the current conflict – to also join, defending the West’s commitment to its security?

And in expanding NATO to 32 members, soon adding hundreds of miles of borders to Russia, will the military alliance help ensure that Russia is never able to launch an unprovoked, malicious invasion? are not? Or does it only reinforce divisions with an isolated, angry, nuclear-armed adversary already paranoid of the West’s “encirclement?”

The White House welcomed Thursday’s statement by the Finnish leaders that their country should “apply to join NATO immediately,” while the Swedish leaders are expected to do so. within the next few days. Not surprisingly, Russia said it would take “retaliatory steps”, including a “military-technical” response, which many experts see as a threat to deploying tactical nuclear weapons near its borders. Russian-Finnish world.

For weeks, U.S. officials have been quietly meeting with both Finnish and Swedish officials, planning how to increase security in the two countries while their alliance applications are pending. waiting for progressing.

For Mr. Biden and his aides, the argument for letting Finland and Sweden in, and at the same time keeping Ukraine out, is pretty straightforward. The two Nordic countries are model democracies and modern militaries, with which the United States and other NATO nations regularly conduct exercises, working together to track Russian submarines, protect communications cables, and monitor Russian submarines. undersea communications and conduct air patrols over the Baltic Sea.

In short, they are NATO allies in every sense but officially – and the invasion of Ukraine ended virtually all debate over whether the two countries would be safer by keeping their distance from the alliance. or not.

“We haven’t been outside of NATO for 30 years – we could have joined in the early 90s,” Mikko Hautala, Finland’s ambassador to the United States, said on Thursday as he walked at the assemblies. school of the United States Senate, marking support. because of the sudden change of his country. Trying to avoid provoking Putin, he said, “doesn’t change Russia’s actions.”

By contrast, Ukraine is the core of the former Soviet Union that Mr. Putin is trying to rebuild, at least in part. And while the country amended its Constitution three years ago to make NATO membership a national goal, it is seen as too corrupt and too lacking in democracy to qualify for membership in the bloc. years, if not decades to come.

Key members of NATO – led by France and Germany – have made it clear that they oppose including Ukraine. There is now a hardline view that the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky is engaged in an active shooting war in which the United States and 29 other members of the coalition would have to be directly involved if Ukraine were to be the main member. knowledge, covered by its core promise that an attack on one member is an attack on all.

Mr. Zelensky understood the move well, and a few weeks after the conflict broke out, he gave up his insistence on Ukraine joining NATO. In late March, a month after the Russian invasion and a time when there still seemed some prospect of a diplomatic solution, he made it clear that if it could lead to a permanent end to the war, , he was ready to declare Ukraine “neutral”. status.

“Security guarantees and neutrality, the denuclearization of our state – we are ready to do that,” he told Russian journalists, a phrase he repeated over and over. many times since then.

Those statements were a relief to Mr. Biden, whose first goal was to get the Russians out of Ukraine, irrevocable, but whose second goal was to avoid World War III.

Accordingly, he wants to avoid direct conflict with Putin’s forces and avoid doing anything that risks escalation that could quickly turn nuclear. If Ukraine joins NATO, it would strengthen Mr. Putin’s view that the former Soviet state is conspiring with the West to destroy the Russian state – and it may be only a matter of time until the confrontation. directly broke out, with all its dangers. .

By that logic, Mr. Biden refused to send MIG fighters to Ukraine that could be used to bomb Moscow. He refused a no-fly zone over Ukraine because of the risk that the American pilot might not be able to fight the Russian pilot.

But his once clear line has become more blurred over the past few weeks.

As Russia’s military weaknesses and incompetence became apparent, Mr. Biden approved sending Ukrainian heavy artillery to destroy Russia’s latest campaign in the Donbas, and he sent missiles and machines. Switchblade drones were used to hit Russian tanks.

When the administration protested last week’s reports that the United States had provided Ukraine with intelligence helped it sink Moscowthe pride of Putin’s naval fleet, and targeting Russian mobile command posts and the Russian generals sat inside them, the reason for their displeasure was clear. The revelations show how close Washington is to provoking Putin.

The question now is whether NATO expansion threatens to spur a new Cold War – and perhaps something worse. It is a debate similar to the one that took place under the Clinton administration when there were warnings about the danger of NATO expansion. George F. Kennan, the architect of the post-World War II “containment” strategy to isolate the Soviet Union, called the expansion “the most fateful mistake of American policy in the entire post-war period. Cold War.”

Last week, Anne-Marie Slaughter, chief executive officer of New America, warned that “all parties involved should take a deep breath and slow down.”

“The threat of Russia invading Finland or Sweden is far-fetched,” she wrote in The Financial Times. “But their admission into a military alliance would redraw and deepen the divisions of Europe in the 20th century in ways that would preclude much bolder and braver thinking about how to achieve it. peace and prosperity in the 21st century”.

That is a long-term concern. In the short term, NATO and US officials are concerned about how to ensure that Russia does not threaten Finland or Sweden before they become full members of the alliance. (That assumes there are no current members of the coalition’s subjects; many believe Mr. Putin will rely on Hungary and its prime minister, Viktor Orban, to turn down applications.) yes Britain is clear on this matter, signing a separate security treaty with the two countries. The United States did not say what security guarantees it was willing to provide.

But Mr. Putin has blamed NATO expansion by invading a neighboring country. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, quoted the President of Finland, Sauli Niinisto, who made it clear that Ukraine has forced the Finns to think differently about their security.

“You caused this,” Niinisto said of Putin. “Look in the mirror.”

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