You may not have been glued to the annual new year’s address by Finland’s president. That’s understandable but unfortunate, because Sauli Niinisto said some remarkable things. His speech should give the European Union an idea, to be discussed not just in Brussels but also — and especially — in the capitals of Sweden, Austria, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta.
These six countries all belong to the EU but are otherwise officially non-aligned, meaning that they are not members of NATO, the transatlantic alliance that kept the peace during the Cold War and currently has to figure out how it would respond to a renewed invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
The idea — inspired by Niinisto’s comments — is this: All six neutral countries, linking arms with the EU and NATO, should turn the ultimatum given by Russian President Vladimir Putin to the West on its head. He’s in effect demanding that NATO stop expanding forever, or else he attacks. Instead, the Finns, Swedes, Austrians, Irish, Maltese and Cypriots should explain that if he does attack, they will join NATO.
Niinisto, of course, didn’t nearly go that far. In his diplomatic way, he merely reminded Finns that their “room to maneuver and freedom of choice also include the possibility of military alignment and of applying for NATO membership, should we ourselves so decide.” This freedom of choice is exactly what Putin wants to deny countries such as Ukraine, Moldova or Georgia.
For Finland and Sweden are concerned that if Russia becomes more aggressive in the Baltic, they would both be on the front line. Above all, both have an interest — as does the entire EU — in sending a message to Putin: We don’t accept your attempt to return to might-makes-right and spheres of influence; we won’t allow great powers once again to decide among themselves the fate of smaller nations.