02 April 2014

Ukraine 4/2: Ripple Effects in Scandinavia

Sweden and Finland are rightfully worried about their belligerent neighbor and new Russian expansionism.

When Russian warplanes staged a mock bombing run on Sweden last year, air defences were caught napping. It was the middle of the night and no Swedish planes were scrambled.

Instead, Danish jets belonging to NATO's Baltic mission based in Lithuania, took to the air to shadow the Russians.

The discussion that incident triggered over Sweden's ability to defend itself has grown with Russia's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. As in neighbour and fellow EU member Finland, Swedes wonder whether to seek shelter in the U.S.-led NATO alliance, abandoning Stockholm's two centuries of formal neutrality.

Sweden has talked of a "doctrinal shift" in defence policy. In Helsinki, where "Finlandisation" became a Cold War byword for self-imposed neutrality driven by fear of a powerful neighbour, the government has talked of an "open debate" on joining NATO.

Talk of NATO underscores anxieties that feed calls for more defence cooperation and spending. But membership seems distant, with voters in both countries sceptical of the benefits, and wary of the costs of taking on new international commitments.

Both nations have a history of dealing with Moscow in their own particular ways. Sweden's loss of Finland to Russia in the time of Napoleon prompted it to give up on war and armed pacts.

Finland, which won independence during Russia's revolution of 1917 but nearly lost it fighting the Soviet Union in World War Two, kept close to the West economically and politically during the Cold War but avoided confrontation with Moscow.

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