Nir Levitan

‘The NATO-Finland-Russia triangle: How will it play out in the coming months?’

After almost a year since Finnish President Sauli Niinistö made the decision in May 2022 for Finland to submit an application for NATO membership, which was supported by the Finnish Parliament, Finland has now officially become a member of the military alliance.

As a result of this membership, Finland will have access to collective defense planning and implementation as per Article 5, and will also be a part of NATO’s operational plans and leadership structures. Finland will be involved in various NATO exercises, and will contribute in several key areas such as monitoring military activity in the Baltic region and High North through air and sea surveillance. Additionally, Finland will participate in NATO’s joint air and missile defense system, similar to Iceland’s involvement in the alliance.

Whilst Finland’s NATO membership enables other member states to utilize its defense infrastructure, it is not mandated to routinely host NATO military personnel or permit nuclear armaments on its soil. Additionally, it is imperative to note that Finland’s incorporation into NATO will not influence the demilitarized state of the Åland archipelago, a crucial part of Finland’s territory in the Baltic Sea. This area, as per international agreements that Finland is obligated to adhere to, is considered neutral and enjoys a status of non-alignment.

NATO members’ direct costs, including Finland’s, may be covered by NATO’s shared budgets and through personnel contributions to the alliance’s military command structure. The Finnish government has stated that the annual expenses associated with NATO membership, including administrative and command structure costs, are expected to fall between 70 to 100 million euros. In addition, Finland will serve as a reserve base for military and industrial power, which highlights the importance of military mobility and security of supply.

The significance of Finland’s decision to join NATO and Russia’s subsequent warnings extends beyond just Finland and has implications for the entire Nordic region. In response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Finland has strengthened its relationship with Sweden and has been working closely with other Scandinavian countries. In August 2022, the importance of military and cyber cooperation among the Nordic countries was emphasized, and in November 2022, Finland, Sweden, and Norway renewed their tripartite memorandum of understanding to enhance operational planning, particularly in the northern regions where they share common interests. Additionally, in March 2023, the air forces of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark signed a statement of intent to establish a joint command.[1]

Due to its relatively large air force in relation to its size, Finland will be a valuable asset in monitoring and securing airspace under NATO’s supervision. Given its proximity to the Baltic states, particularly Estonia, Finland is expected to cooperate with these countries in the framework of NATO missions in the region. The Nordic security cooperation project NORDEFCO, along with the British-led cooperation in the operational force JEF, will also play a critical role in implementing NATO’s deterrence and defense operations in Northern Europe, where Finland will be an active participant.[2]

In addition to the other benefits of joining NATO, Finland’s accession will play a crucial role in protecting the Baltic region. It is important to note that Finland is a Baltic Sea country that relies heavily on maritime traffic and has a significant stake in preserving the territorial integrity of the Baltic states. Roughly 80% of Finland’s exports and 90% of its imports are transported through the Baltic Sea, underscoring the vital importance of safeguarding this region.

Finland is also an Arctic nation, which is significant for the defense of sea lines in the Arctic Ocean. The Finnish Lapland is situated between the Kola Peninsula, which is the home base of the Russian Northern Fleet and receives frequent public exposure, and the Norwegian coastal areas that are essential for safeguarding sea lines in the ocean. The northern parts of Finland, Sweden, and Norway constitute a shared strategic space, and these three countries possess the capability to protect the area that is crucial to the United States.

Finland’s accession to NATO coincides with a significant event in the country. This week, the Finnish conservative leader, Petteri Orpo, won the election against the incumbent Prime Minister, Sanna Marin. Orpo’s victory means that the conservatives will have the opportunity to form a new government that is expected to maintain a pro-European stance.

In addition to the election of Petteri Orpo and Finland’s accession to NATO, the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced this week the temporary closure of its representative office in Petrozavodsk. The office operated under the Consulate General in St. Petersburg and the decision was made due to a significant decrease in the ministry’s core tasks. This closure follows the earlier closure of the Murmansk office, which also operated under the Consulate General of Finland in St. Petersburg. However, the Consulate General in St. Petersburg will continue its activities and the closure of the Petrozavodsk office will not affect the activities of Russian diplomatic missions in Finland.[3]

Russia has already issued official warnings, and it is anticipated that they will take action on the ground, such as continuing military flights in nearby airspaces or even within Finnish territory, as they have done in Norway. This will be a testing time for the NATO alliance, and particularly for Finland, as it seeks to maintain a delicate balance and lines of communication with Russia under an unofficial, yet well-established cover. Russia will closely monitor Finland’s actions near its border areas, and will take note of the Finnish government’s willingness to use its intelligence capabilities to assist NATO. These developments will test Finland’s resilience and could bring about significant changes in the Baltic Sea and Arctic regions.




About the Author
Nir Levitan is a Ph.D. from Bar-Ilan University's Graduate Program in Conflict Resolution, Management and Negotiation. Currently, he is a research fellow at Europa Institute and a research affiliate at Center for Cold War Studies at the University of Southern Denmark
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