The initial stage of confrontation between Russia and the West is a process of consolidating the positions of both opposing sides. One of its most obvious manifestations is the beginning of Finland and Sweden joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, writes Konstantin Khudoley, professor at the Faculty of International Relations at St. Petersburg State University. The consequences of this step for the future development of international relations in Europe and beyond can be very significant.
First of all, the entry of Finland and Sweden will help strengthen the bloc. Both countries have developed economies, high living standards, an effective public administration, modern armed forces (Sweden also has a large military industry) and a good international reputation. This stimulates NATO rapprochement with other neutral states in Europe (Switzerland has already made this clear), as well as a number of countries outside the North Atlantic region. The trend towards NATO becoming a global military bloc is likely to intensify. Now it is difficult to name the countries that in the future will want to join NATO, which the bloc will be ready to accept into its membership. However, we can predict with a high degree of certainty that this prospect, the pros and cons of such a step, will be very carefully analysed in a number of countries of the post-Soviet space and the Middle East, as well as in Brussels. Most likely, the current expansion of NATO will not be the last one.
NATO is a military-political alliance, and joining it, of course, means accepting certain obligations. However, the picture here is not uniform at all. So, for example, there are no nuclear weapons or foreign military bases on the territory of Norway. Most likely, Sweden and Finland will choose a similar option, although the establishment of some NATO military facilities in Finland hasnt been ruled out. NATO exercises in Finland and Sweden, as well as in the adjacent parts of the Baltic Sea, will undoubtedly take place. The issue of the Åland Islands, which have had a demilitarised status for many years, is not clear. And, perhaps most importantly, the armed forces of Sweden and Finland, based on NATO doctrines, will consider Russia as the main threat.
In the political sphere, the situation for Russia will undoubtedly become less favourable. Russia has no territorial disputes with Sweden or Finland. It is unlikely that politicians who call for a revision of the border established by the peace treaty of 1947 and confirmed by the treaty of 1992 will be able to come to power in Finland. However, the atmosphere on the border, which for many years has been distinguished by goodwill, may already be different. In the Baltic Sea, Russia will be the only non-NATO member state, as it is in the Arctic Ocean today. We can predict with a high degree of certainty that the West will try to use this to establish its own rules of the game. The room for manoeuvre is very limited.
The most serious problems arise in the economic sphere. Russias economic ties with Sweden and Finland have already suffered from EU sanctions and Russian counter-sanctions. However, in the case of Finland, they still remained significant. Now Finland has taken a course to reduce them. This also applies to the energy sector, which had seemed to be important for both sides. Of course, Finland is following the general policy of the West, but it is making this turn more abruptly than many others. The issue of the Saimaa Canal is by and large not very important now its importance as a trade route has declined sharply. The ongoing changes may negatively affect the economy of the North-West of Russia and lead to an increase in the gap between its level of development and that of the EU countries.
And, finally, Finland has taken a course towards curtailing ties in the fields of education, science, culture and others. It has done this rather abruptly. Thus, for example, academic circles in the US and Britain are more ready for practical cooperation with Russians than in Finland.
Although these processes in Northern Europe are clearly unfavourable for Russia, the most appropriate response to them would be a pragmatic and adequate one, rather than an emotional reaction. Of course, the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO is not a minor episode, but it does not create any existential threat for Russia either. When criticising the decision of Sweden and Finland, it is advisable to refrain from threats, or sharp and rude attacks they will not frighten the Finns and Swedes, but only increase their negative attitude towards Russia. In the event that NATO military infrastructure appears on the territory of Sweden and Finland, Russia, of course, must take measures, but they must be strictly verified and be a response only to those threats that will specifically arise no less, but in no case more.
Given that the current agreements with NATO, the EU and certain Western countries are now partially implemented or do not work at all, it is hardly advisable for Russia to take any unilateral steps to officially withdraw from them or stop cooperation with international organisations. This is especially true for Northern Europe. The aggravation of the situation in the Baltic Sea region, Northern Europe, the Arctic where Russia borders with NATO and EU countries can have serious negative consequences. The experience of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania being in NATO showed that joining NATO in itself does not lead to a sharp increase in tension. With Finlands accession to NATO, its role as a mediator, which it has successfully played since the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1975, will be significantly reduced. A very interesting idea of Finland to hold a new OSCE summit in 2025 in connection with the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Final Act in modern conditions is unlikely to have a chance of implementation. Nevertheless, it would be advisable for Russian diplomacy to show maximum restraint and not to refuse to put forward initiatives to develop a dialogue, or at least to maintain the existing level of relations. Despite the unfavourable situation, it seems desirable to try to preserve what is possible in the sphere of economic and humanitarian ties.
Since the North-West of Russia has now become a region where Russia borders NATO and the EU, the attention of Russian diplomacy to this region, including to the small and medium-sized states of the Baltic Sea region, should increase. Of course, the old system of international relations that emerged in Europe after the collapse of the bipolar system, and the emergence of a new one is hardly possible in the near future and even in the medium term the consequences of the current events in Ukraine will be very serious and profound.
Nevertheless, it is worth trying to preserve what remains positive from the past, at least until some future time when new developments appear.