BARDUFOSS — The sound of gunfire echoed around the Norwegian fjords as a row of Swedish and Finnish soldiers, positioned prone behind banks of snow, trained rifles and missile launchers on nearby hills ready for an enemy attack.
The drill, in March, was the first time forces from Finland and Sweden have formed a combined brigade in a scheduled NATO exercise in Arctic Norway known as “Cold Response.” Neither country is a member of the NATO alliance. The exercise was long planned, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 added intensity to the war game.
“We would be rather naive not to recognize that there is a threat,” Swedish Major Stefan Nordstrom told Reuters. “The security situation in the whole of Europe has changed and we have to accept that, and we have to adapt.”
That sense of threat means President Vladimir Putin, who embarked on what he calls a “special operation” in Ukraine partly to counter the expansion of the NATO alliance, may soon have a new NATO neighbor.
Finland has a 1,300 km (810 mile) border with Russia. In a March 28 phone call, the country’s President Sauli Niinisto asked NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg for details on principles and steps for accepting new members, he wrote on Facebook. Finland’s leaders have discussed possible membership with “almost all” NATO’s 30 members, and will submit a review to parliament by mid-April, Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told Reuters.
Sweden – home of the founder of the Nobel Peace Prize and a country which has not fought in a war since 1814 – is more hesitant….
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