If you listen to those westerners who place the blame for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the feet of NATO, a common theme arises: NATO, they say, “expanded aggressively” since the end of the cold war, and Russia felt threatened by the prospect of being surrounded. Ukrainian membership, or putative membership, they argued, was the last straw, and Putin was compelled to launch an invasion to secure Ukraine’s neutrality as a “buffer state” between the western alliance and Russia.
Three months on, then, from that invasion, isn’t it fair to say that if the Russian aim was to prevent encirclement by NATO, it’s been… an abject disaster?
Finland has formally confirmed it intends to join Nato, abandoning decades of military non-alignment in a historic policy shift triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Finland’s prime minister, Sanna Marin, said the proposal would be sent to parliament on Monday for ratification. “We hope parliament will confirm the decision in the coming days. It will be based on a strong mandate,” she said.
That ratification by the Finnish parliament, today, will be straightforward enough. The only question now is whether NATO will accept Finland – and it will. There’ll be some grumbling and haggling from some members, like Hungary and perhaps Turkey, but nobody’s going to veto Finnish membership. The end result will be that Russia has NATO borders with Turkey to the South, the Baltic states and Poland in the west, and 1,300km with Finland in the North.
The paradox of the Russian invasion is that if it was designed to deter NATO, it has not worked. In fact, it’s probably done the opposite: The hapless nature of the Russian invasion is such that where countries might have looked at the Russian army in some fear in February, now they look at what Ukraine is achieving and worry a lot less. As I write this, the Russians are still no further than 100km inside Ukraine’s borders in any direction, and the Ukrainians have advanced so far in some places that the Russian City of Belgorod is coming under Ukrainian artillery fire.
As a result of the invasion of Ukraine, Russia is in a vastly weaker strategic and geopolitical position than it was at the beginning of the year. That is not to say that it does not have significant remaining strength – any country of its size and with its natural resources will always be a force to be reckoned with. But it is to say that the balance of power between Russia on the one hand and NATO on the other has shifted decisively in favour of the west.
All of this has some implications, by the way, for Ireland: Finland and Sweden were two of the remaining neutral states in the EU, alongside Austria, and Ireland. With Finland moving to join NATO, and Sweden sure to follow soon thereafter, that leaves Dublin and Vienna as the two neutral states. With EU treaty reform on the horizon, and moving quickly, the pressure on Ireland to, at the very least, join an EU common defence mechanism will soon be overwhelming.
We should not pretend, either, that the country is likely to resist the pressure. How well did that assumption work out for us on Corporate Tax rates, when the OECD came knocking? My prediction is that in short order, Ireland will be under similar pressure to commit its troops to defending the EU’s borders from however many tanks the Russians have left when the Ukrainians are done with them. Luckily, at the present rate of Russian attrition, it might be years before they’re capable of threatening another war anyway.