So, Finland has joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), thereby becoming the thirty-first nation to be admitted to membership. At a stroke the common border between Russia and NATO countries has increased from 1,215 to 2,555 kilometres, over double its previous length. This is not good news for Putin.
And yet it is entirely his own fault. So determined was Putin that Ukraine should not join NATO that he eventually invaded it in his “special military operation” that continues to this day. And we all know how well that’s going.
His strategy proved to be disastrous and completely counter-productive. It has prompted Finland to join the Alliance, with Sweden surely to follow once the diplomatic niceties with Turkiye and Hungary are dealt with. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!
It is hardly the first time that Finland has been confronted with Russia aggression; she has had to cope with it as a neighbour for many centuries. Russia and Sweden, on the western boundary with Finland, have often been at war, which oftentimes led to Finland being occupied. It was the buffer zone between those two warring countries and frequently found itself as the filling in the sandwich.
Eventually, it became part of the Russian Empire in 1809 when the country was occupied by Czar Alexander I. It managed to secure its independence in 1918 after the Russian Revolution.
Still within living memory, most recently a Russian army of nearly 500,000 men attacked Finland in November 1939, just after the outbreak of the Second World War. Finland managed to initially repel all attacks in what became known as the Winter War, fought in temperatures as low as – 43 degrees Celsius. Russian casualties were heavy at around 350,000 all told. Eventually peace came in May 1940 with Finland forced to cede some territory.
After the War Finland became a neutral independent state and looked both east and west as it tried to maintain its neutrality. When the Warsaw Pact collapsed and the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 things might have stayed that way if Putin had not come to power.
Despite Putin’s obvious expansionist agenda Finland did not, unlike Poland and the Baltic states, apply immediately to become a NATO member. But clearly the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February last year was the straw that broke the camel’s back as far as Finland was concerned. Joining NATO may well be seen in retrospect as Sanna Marin’s most important achievement during her time as Finnish Prime Minister.
Finland is in fact a most welcome addition to NATO. For a small country with a population of 5.5 million (roughly the same as Scotland’s) and a defence budget in 2022 of €5.8 billion, it boasts powerful and well-equipped armed forces. Universal conscription is a constant part of Finnish defence strategy, with a stated wartime strength of some 280,000 with up to 900,000 reservists deemed sufficient to act as a deterrent.
The Finns are well armed too. Its army fields some 240 main battle tanks, over 1,000 other armoured fighting vehicles, and at least 900 artillery pieces, which is more than any other European member of NATO.
The Finnish navy has nearly 250 ships, mainly of the offshore patrol vessel and mine-laying and mine counter-measure category, plus a selection of transport and landing ships.
In the air, Finland is hoping to buy sixty-four US F-35A fifth generation stealth aircraft for its air force, and will operate these in partnership with the air forces of Norway and Sweden, thereby creating a strong northern flank in NATO.
The error in Putin’s strategy is obvious. Rather than countering NATO’s increasing influence in Russia’s near west he has unwittingly enhanced it. As and when Sweden also joins the Alliance his perceived enemy will be overwhelmingly powerful and Russia’s influence much diminished. People are already calling the Baltic Sea the “NATO Sea” in anticipation.
As I have written before, Putin’s background is as a spy, not a military man, and his lack of understanding of grand military strategy is clear for all to see. It can’t be too long now, surely, until his incompetence persuades a patient Russian people and Politburo that his time is over.
In the meantime, the war in Ukraine rumbles on. We can only hope that Putin’s defenestration, perhaps both figuratively and literally knowing Russian practices, is not too far away.
Lt Col Stuart Crawford is a defence analyst and former army officer. Sign up for his newsletters at www.DefenceReview.uk
Lt Col Stuart Crawford’s latest book Tank Commander (Hardback) is available now