Nato expansion could finally shore up alliance's weakest flank

5 days ago 44

BRUSSELS (BLOOMBERG) - Nato has long faced a complex military problem: how to best defend the Baltic states that border Russia and Belarus if ever Moscow chose to attack. President Vladimir Putin may have inadvertently forced a solution.

While much of the focus of deteriorating east-west relations has been on Germany's new military plans, the expected accession of Finland and Sweden to the 30-member transatlantic alliance is part of the biggest shift in European foreign policy to emerge since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

After waging war in part to stop Nato's expansion, Putin is now confronted with the opposite. Membership for Finland would draw a line under an era that saw its giant Russian neighbour exert so much influence over the country's relationship with the rest of Europe. For Sweden, it marks a final end to the neutrality that had defined the nation for two centuries.

For the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the Nordic countries will not only bring timely extra military capabilities. Geographically, they will reduce the vulnerability of its northeastern flank by adding 1,343km of additional land frontier with Russia and effectively isolating its enclave of Kaliningrad sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea.

"In case of a conflict, there's an opportunity to close the Gulf of Finland," Lithuanian Defence Minister Arvydas Anusauskas told reporters. "That's new opportunities, something we didn't even contemplate before."

Nato foreign ministers will gather in Berlin this weekend, where they'll be joined by their Swedish and Finnish counterparts. There's momentum behind the two Nordic countries applying for membership imminently, though it's not a done deal.

On Friday (...

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