Russia’s repeated little “visits” with subs and planes might finally be enough for famously neutral Sweden. For the first time, an opinion poll has found that the majority of respondents want to join the NATO alliance. According to the Financial Times:
More Swedes are in favour of joining Nato than are against for the first time in the Nordic country’s history, according to a poll just a week after a hunt for a suspected submarine in the waters outside Stockholm.In a new poll by Novus for TV4 conducted over the weekend, 37 per cent of Swedes said they supported joining Nato while 36 per cent were against. Five months ago a poll showed 28 per cent in favour and 56 per cent against.
Sweden’s new center-left government came into office having made anti-NATO pledges, but the conversation seems to have shifted significantly since then. Not only have the Russians been (supposedly) poking around in Swedish waters; they’ve also entered Swedish airspace. As a similar incident over Estonia makes clear, the Russians are testing how much leeway they have in the Baltic after an easy win in Ukraine—but it appears they are finally getting some pushback.If Sweden did start to explore NATO membership, the move would have regional repercussions:
The three Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, are particularly keen for Sweden and Finland to sign up to Nato, believing that their own security is weakened without them in the club. This is especially so for Sweden, whose island of Gotland lies in the middle of the Baltic sea and is seen as a tempting and vulnerable target should Russia wish to attack the Baltics.Sweden and Finland have an informal understanding that they would only join Nato together. The issue of Nato membership is likely to feature heavily in Finland’s parliamentary elections due in the spring with Alex Stubb, the new prime minister, a big proponent of joining the military alliance.
Potentially, then, Russian aggression might be uniting the whole Baltic against Russia, which was not the case during the Cold War. Sweden was officially neutral during that conflict (though it often cooperated with NATO), while at times Finland was practically a ward of the Soviets.But even if Sweden did join NATO, its military weakness would leave it vulnerable. Meanwhile, NATO’s European members are historically weak, even on paper, and even more so in the field. And above all, American posturing and retreat over the Ukraine crisis has called into question the alliance’s ability to deter Putin from further aggression in the Baltics.It’s good to see some of the Europeans start taking this threat seriously. But Putin is bringing hard-power realities back to the fore, and should not be underestimated.