Finland wants to join NATO. What military-strategic significance would accession have in the event of a defense against a possible aggressor Vladimir Putin? Two experts give their assessment.

When looking at NATO, Vladimir Putin had clear expectations. The Kremlin was counting on the “brain-dead” alliance (Emmanuel Macron quote) being crushed between individual interests after the start of the war and leaving Ukraine more or less to its own devices. As is well known, things turned out differently, with the Ukraine aid, but also with the cohesion of NATO itself.

With Sweden and Finland, two countries are now striving to join the alliance, which before the war viewed the neo-imperialist activities in Moscow with suspicion, but showed no real ambitions to join.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov surprisingly downplayed Finland’s plans: “Finland, Sweden and other neutral countries have been taking part in NATO military exercises for many years, and NATO takes their territory into account in the military planning of the eastward movement.” The situation will be monitored and conclusions will be drawn.

There is an explanation for Russia’s moderate response. No troops from NATO members are currently stationed along the 1,343-kilometer joint border with Finland, and nothing is known about such plans.

Only such a troop shift would pose a new threat from the Russian point of view, says Russia expert Gerhard Mangott. Because “Russia could not defend this border with conventional means,” he says, after all, of the 300,000 or so Russian soldiers, around 170,000 are tied up in Ukraine. There is simply a lack of manpower.

The risk of a nuclear escalation would be all the more likely if NATO took such a step. All of this must be taken into account when assessing Finland’s military importance as a possible NATO member.

But what about a Russian attack, i.e. the NATO alliance case? In fact, Finland would probably play a key role in a conflict with Russia. “In a war between great powers, time is the decisive factor,” says Markus Reisner. He is a colonel in the Austrian army. The aim is to destroy critical infrastructure faster than the other side, for example by using ballistic missiles.

Such a strategically important place is on the Russian side a good 200 kilometers from the Finnish border in the port city of Severomorsk: the headquarters of the Russian Northern Fleet. Of the five fleets in Russia, it has the greatest clout, with nine so-called “strategic nuclear submarines” alone being stationed here.

In addition, there is an entire SU-33 and SU-25 fighter jet regiment as well as its own marine infantry. The task force plays a central role in the Russian nuclear strategy. In the event of war with the West, his job would be to cut the link between the US and Europe, preventing the movement of troops and equipment.

“Of course, due to the short distance from the Finnish border to Severomorsk, it would be an option to attack the Russian nuclear submarines from there in case of defense and possibly even eliminate them,” says Reisner, explaining a hypothetical war scenario.

However, the shortest route from a NATO state to Severomorsk would be in Kirkenes, Norway, even if the Finns joined. Reisner also considers the long and almost indefensible border that Russia and Finland share to be strategically more important.

Finland’s army itself is quite impressive, despite the country’s small population (5.5 million). The military includes 12,000 professional soldiers and civilian employees plus 22,000 conscripts per year. In the event of war, the troop strength can increase to 280,000 soldiers.

Since Finnish defense policy, unlike Germany, for example, has continued to focus on national defense in recent years, the country has maintained a comparatively large amount of artillery to date. In December 2021, the Finnish government decided to purchase 64 F-35A Lightning II fighter jets from the United States

In the meantime, people in Helsinki are aware of their own strategic importance in the event of a possible accession. Finland will take care of the security of the border with Russia, former Supreme Commander of the Finnish Armed Forces Juhani Kaskaela told Foreign Policy magazine. “We know that we are contributing to security in Europe and would not just be the beneficiaries.”