Although Russia will almost certainly attempt to stall Finland and Sweden’s efforts to join NATO, Henry Wilkinson, Chief Intelligence Officer at security intelligence firm Dragonfly, argues that its efforts are unlikely to derail and deter both countries' membership applications despite the risks to businesses and markets:
“Finland and Sweden’s push to gain NATO membership and bring them under its security umbrella is a strategic failure for Russia, given its goals of keeping NATO from its borders. The invasion of Ukraine has not been the deterrent that Putin assumed it would but instead has given a greater sense of urgency about the need for collective defence in European countries.
“The process of Finland and Sweden joining NATO is nevertheless likely to unsettle markets and maintain inflationary pressures. We are tracking significant concerns among business clients about the market volatility, security and cyber risks in the intervening period between now and when those countries attain membership as Russia looks to derail and deter both countries' membership applications.
“Russia is likely to make vigorous efforts to prevent or stall the process, making the intervening period between now and when either country joins NATO one of further geopolitical uncertainty and security anxieties. We also anticipate intensified efforts by Russia to divide NATO member states and undermine consensus in inviting Finland and Sweden as new members.
“Russia has few options to prevent either country from joining, but it will almost certainly aim to apply pressure where it can to dissuade them. Russia is overstretched militarily and economically because of the war in Ukraine. Putin’s main strategic and political priority at this point seems to be victory in Donbas at almost any cost. This presents a window of opportunity for Finland and Sweden to join NATO with less risk of Russia deploying armed forces in a manner and scale that would intimidate either country to back down. And such intimidation at this point would probably only serve to accelerate the process.
“Most immediately, we anticipate increased hostile cyber and political activity by Russia against both Finland and Sweden, particularly aggressive misinformation and intimidation campaigns. We also expect intensified efforts by Russia to target NATO member states which it sees as more vulnerable to weakening popular or political support for NATO expansion. Disinformation campaigns by Russia are unlikely to destabilise Finland or Sweden, such as by prompting unrest due to divisive messaging, let alone derail any NATO accession.
“Nevertheless, we forecast more militarised efforts by Russia to stall or derail Finland or Sweden from joining NATO, including further attempts at coercive nuclear posturing, increased military activity in the Baltic Sea and airspace incursions by Russian military aircraft. We also anticipate that Russia will attempt to militarily press territorial claims in the Arctic to exert pressure, and moderate increases in Russian military deployments along the Finnish border and in Kaliningrad.”