(Stockholm) Concerned about Russia’s reaction to their likely applications for NATO membership, Sweden and Finland are seeking assurances of protection during the months needed to formally enter the Atlantic alliance, like agreements signed Wednesday with London.

In recent months, Stockholm and Helsinki have multiplied international contacts and meetings to ensure the support of NATO members for their accession.

But according to the leaders of the two countries, the discussions have also aimed more recently to obtain assurances, in particular from the most powerful members, on the protection of Sweden and Finland.

During the period of membership – which notably involves ratification by all members, which takes several months – the candidate remains a non-member, who cannot benefit from the umbrella of Article 5 of mutual defence.

The secretary general of the alliance, the Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg, however, felt that it would be possible to find “arrangements”. For the Swedish case, he thus evoked an “increased presence” of NATO forces in the Baltic Sea or in its close vicinity.

“If Sweden were attacked and turned to us for support, we would give it to them,” Boris Johnson promised on Wednesday, signing with his Swedish counterpart Magdalena Andersson a “political declaration of solidarity”, including military.

A similar agreement was signed with the Finnish President at the end of the day in Helsinki.

“It’s not as strong as Article 5, but that’s what we’ll have in the interim,” Joakim Paasikivi, a military strategy teacher at Sweden’s Defense College, told AFP.

It can be for example to increase its military presence in the sector, or to say that we will support Sweden and Finland if necessary, underlines this lieutenant-colonel.

Members of the European Union, Sweden and Finland also benefit from the mutual assistance clause provided for in Article 42-7.

On the American side, officials interviewed by AFP limit themselves to ensuring that solutions will be found, but that it is premature to talk about them.

Once a third country has decided to join, NATO members must unanimously agree to invite it to join, initiating membership talks.

Since the NATO boss has promised to welcome Sweden and Finland “with open arms” in the event of a candidacy, this first phase of the process can be rapid, in the order of “a few days to a few weeks”, estimates Charly Salonius-Pasternak, researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

What to be ready for a NATO summit scheduled for the end of June in Madrid, according to analysts.

Then there remains the process of ratification by all 30 Member States, which is generally parliamentary.

“Right now it’s hard to see a country that would really try to slow down or stop the process,” notes Salonius-Pasternak.

A country could, however, take the opportunity to negotiate its support.

Croatian President Zoran Milanovic has called on his country’s parliament to reject membership until neighboring Bosnia reforms an electoral law.

In total, the accession process took a year for the 30th member, North Macedonia.

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said on Tuesday that the earliest date for him to join NATO would be in October.

Even before the war in Ukraine, Moscow warned Sweden and Finland of the “political and military consequences of joining”.

Joakim Paasikivi, a professor of military strategy at Sweden’s Defense College, expects “aggressive and threatening Russian rhetoric”, as well as “hybrid acts like cyberattacks, more severe than any we’ve seen in the past,” targeting the financial system or energy infrastructure, or violations of air or sea borders.

Experts interviewed by AFP consider the scenario of a military attack very unlikely or even excluded, in particular because the Russian army is widely mobilized in Ukraine.

According to Mr. Salonius-Pasternak, however, Moscow could imagine de facto blocking the accession process “by occupying an island or a portion of territory”, Russia having “recently taken decisions that do not seem very rational from our perspective”.

“But I think the NATO countries would see it coming and it wouldn’t be too difficult for Finland to handle militarily.”



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