(CNSNews.com) – Russia is suspected of violating Finnish airspace as Finland and neighboring Sweden mull joining NATO, a potential move that is growing support inside the transatlantic alliance.
Finland’s defense ministry said a “Russian state aircraft” was suspected to have violated Finnish airspace on Wednesday morning, in a region towards the southern end of Finland’s 830-mile border with Russia, roughly 130 miles north-west of St. Petersburg.
“The Border Guard has started a preliminary investigation in the case,” it said, without elaborating further.
Last Friday, a Russian spy plane violated the airspace of both Denmark, a NATO ally, and Sweden, which like Finland is mulling applying to join the alliance. Sweden and Denmark both lodged protests.
Finland and Sweden, both members of the European Union, have long pursued a policy of neutrality, while cooperating closely with NATO from outside.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought the issue of joining NATO onto the front burner in both Nordic nations, with growing support for the idea expressed by lawmakers and the public alike.
“The risk of being attacked by Russia is far greater if we stay outside of NATO than if we apply for membership,” said Alviina Alametsä, a Finnish member of the European Parliament, adding that most Finnish people and lawmakers were in favor of NATO membership.
Both country’s parliaments are expected to make decisions on the matter by mid-May.
Should they join, Russia’s border with NATO will more than double in length, given the long Finnish-Russian border.
Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova warned against accession.
“If Finland and Sweden join the alliance, they will turn into a space for confrontation between the North Atlantic bloc and Russia, with all the ensuing consequences, including for our time-tested good neighborly relations,” she said in an interview with the Spanish daily ABC. “Is this what the peoples of Sweden and Finland are striving for?”
Membership decisions require the consensus of all 30 current NATO allies. But the path for the two potential aspirants is looking increasingly clear, with major members such as Germany and Britain backing the idea, along with Nordic neighbors Denmark, Norway, and Iceland.
“This is your decision and your decision alone,” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said on Wednesday. “But rest assured: If you decide to join, you will have the full support of Denmark.”
Similar support was expressed by the prime ministers of Norway and Iceland.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met with his visiting Finnish and Swedish counterparts this week and said that they could “count on Germany’s support” if they apply to join NATO.
“No one can assume that the Russian president and government will not on other occasions break international law with violence,” Scholz said after talks with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin.
German support is significant as it has been leery of expansion in the past, playing a key role in the alliance’s decision in 2008 – and since – to stymie requests from Ukraine and Georgia for “membership action plans,” an intermediate step in the membership application process.
Hungary has been seen as the most likely opponent of further expansion, having already broken ranks with the E.U. on issues such as Russia’s demand for gas customers to pay in rubles and the question of a full embargo on Russian oil.
So far, however, the Hungarian government has not publicly expressed any opposition to Finland and Sweden’s entry into NATO.
The only vocal opposition so far had come from Croatian President Zoran Milanovi who said on Tuesday he would veto admission.
But Croatia’s foreign minister, Gordan Grli-Radman, said in a statement that the “parliamentary majority supports the possible accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO,” condemning Milanovic’s comments as having caused “great damage to the reputation and credibility of Croatia.”
(Milanovi, whose largely ceremonial post is that of head of state but not head of the government, has stoked controversy in the past with comment aligning with Russian narratives on Ukraine and the purported threat posed to Russia by NATO.)
Jacob Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the German U.S. Marshall Fund, said obstacles for Sweden and Finland are very few, given the fact both have capable militaries and the public support of leading allies including Germany and Britain, as well as senior U.S. lawmakers.
“It is possible that individual members of NATO – say Turkey or Hungary – might pose political obstacles in order to extract unrelated concessions in other policy areas,” Kirkegaard said. “It is, though, a very small risk in my opinion, given the seriousness of the war in Ukraine.”
Kirkegaard noted that Finland’s armed forces, once its national reserves are included, would be one of the largest armies in NATO.
He said the probability that Russia would attack Finland for joining was extremely low, but “probably not zero.”
“So I think for that reason Finland and NATO will do their utmost to shorten the application period from when Helsinki officially applies to when NATO agrees and the new treaty is ratified,” he said.
From CNSNews - READ ORIGINAL
Some media, including videos, may only be available to view at the original.