Finland and Sweden are set to join NATO despite stiff opposition from Russia, and the Nordic countries could formally be part of the anti-Moscow western bloc as early as this summer.
The move to join NATO would certainly be met with a tough reaction from Moscow, but the West hopes that the move will eventually play to their advantage as Russia's military will be stretched even as it is fighting a full-scale war in Ukraine.
NATO Bloc's Strength to Go Up to 32
If Finland and Sweden join NATO, the strength of the western security bloc will go up from 30 to 32, and will be a morale booster for the US, which has so far failed to stop the Russian war in Ukraine.
For Russia, the move will be unacceptable as the core reason for their Ukraine campaign is the opposition to NATO expansionism. Ukraine's refusal to guarantee that it will not join the US-led security alliance, coupled with other geo-strategic reasons forced President Vladimir Putin to launch the attack on Ukraine in February.
However, several weeks into the war, Ukraine President Volodyymy Zelensky said Kyiv no longer holds on to its insistence on joining NATO.
TheTimes of the UK has reported that US officials said multiple discussion sessions have already taken place over NATO membership for both the countries.
Finland, which shares a 1,300 kilometer border with Russia, is hoping that it can take a positive decision on joining NATO by midsummer.
Sweden is also carrying out a security policy review, and expect to reach national consensus on joining NATO by the end of May, the report said.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has gone on record that the country would not exclude NATO membership "in any way." However, multiple reports have said the prime minister is not keen on pushing the drive so hard despite the popular pressure. Some of the senior ministers in her cabinet have openly said they don't want the country to join NATO.
Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin said earlier that the decision on NATO membership could be arrived at in the spring. On Friday, she said a decision will be made before midsummer. "We will have very careful discussions but not taking any more time than we have to," she added.
Other leaders have also been rooting for the Nordic country to join NATO. "Never underestimate the capacity of Finns to take rapid decisions when the world changes," former Finnish prime minister Alexander Stubb has said. He has also said that it is "a foregone conclusion" that Finland will make a membership application.
Rising Public Clamour
In both the countries, which have remained largely neutral in order to maintain cordial ties with the eastern neighbor, the public sentiment changed in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which is not a NATO member.
As recently as mid-March, Russia issued a stern warning to Finland and Sweden over their plan to join NATO. A spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry said Sweden and Finland would face "serious military and political consequences" if they joined NATO.
"It is obvious that [if] Finland and Sweden join NATO, which is a military organization to begin with, there will be serious military and political consequences," Sergei Belyayev, told Russia's Interfax news agency.
"It would require changing the whole palette of relations with these countries and require retaliatory measures," he added.