As I mentioned in my last op-ed published on the eve of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, tremendous changes should be expected on the global level if military confrontation appears as an inevitability. New polarization, strengthening of political, economic and security concepts among emerging powers, and strengthening existing ones and the recent appearance are logical consequences. That confrontation would not be solely about Russo-Ukrainian relations. Still, more than two months after the invasion, we are slowly but steadily becoming witnesses to the world order.
This is evidenced by the furious reaction of "non-aligned" European countries; Switzerland, Sweden, and Finland. Indeed, in the middle of the 1990s, when the Western world led by the US had a dominant role based on values of democracy, development, and security, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, and Finland joined NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP). Together with several other countries, they expressed aims to cooperate with the Alliance more closely while some of them became full members of the Alliance.
Sweden and Finland’s motives
While Russia positioned itself as a wounded but pragmatic world power and at first built its relation with NATO, the reasons for Sweden and Finland were quite different. The establishment of the Russia-NATO Council in 2002 was a peak in practical cooperation and mutual understanding between them. When it was suspended by the Alliance in 2014, primarily due to the annexation of Crimea, the mutual interest of Scandinavians for bigger and better connections with NATO rose up. But even at that time, Finland and Sweden tried to ensure Moscow that full membership was not an option.
Importance of Arctic and Baltic
At the Warsaw summit in 2016, at a time when the Baltic Sea region has become a focal point of geopolitical conflict, Swedish Prime Minister Lofven and Finnish President Niinistö emphasized the importance of continuing to deepen NATO cooperation, given Russia's successful annexation of Crimea (2014) and invasion of Syria (2015). Swedes and Finns must have considered how to face and confront new Russian demands in the North. Of course, earlier West-USSR tensions calmed down after the collapse of communism but were renewed in 2007 when Russia launched a naval maneuver at the base of the North Pole. The intention was to extend Russian territory up to Pole itself. No doubt that claims of the vast minerals and energy resources underneath the Arctic ice were a central question for Moscow in that region.
The second reason is the Northwest Passage, a sea trade route in Russia's focus because of its economic importance to its northern ports (Murmansk, Arkhangelsk, and Vladivostok are the most significant) and China because of its auxiliary route for its faster export. Climate change and global warming resulted in a period when Northwest Passage is ice-free mainly, which is beneficial to Russian trade from Siberia (oil fields) and international transportation. This case also proves strategic multi-dimensional ties between these two Eurasian powers. Even if Canada is mainly concerned about new developments in the Arctic region, it is endangering Scandinavians too.
The deterioration of the situation following 2016, which was a watershed year in many ways, had an impact on ties in this large region, which stretched from the Arctic to the Baltic and Adriatic to the Mediterranean.
The new very pulsating buffer zone has been expanded compared to Cold War's Iron Curtain. While Finlandization appeared to be a reasonable transitional concept in the face of these conflicts, and was even presented to Ukraine as a viable solution, the big powers' appetites went beyond this strategy. And the US as a strong advocate of NATO expansion to the east, remained deaf to this. From the Western point of view, neoliberalism has to be victorious in a game that Putin explains as a game of life and death.
China and Russia as growing actors
Namely, the central role of the US in world relations became thinner and thinner under the pressure of China in the first place, but also of the growing importance of Russia. Maintaining the position of the only global power has become impossible, and all the great actors have become aware of this. From the Indo-Pacific to the Middle East, China showed great determination in opposing the US. But also in this European buffer zone, with the support of Russia, significant steps have been made through the 17+1 initiative as a component of the Belt and Road Initiative. In response to this challenge, the initially highly permeable Three Seas Initiative (Adriatic, Baltic, and the Black Sea) became a Western response to China, both economically and politically. Of course, because of these developments after 2016, the US also supported it in 2020 at the Tallinn (Estonia) meeting.
The future is ambiguous
Although it is difficult to predict which direction global relations will develop, some of the consequences are already visible. The eventual, so-called inevitable entry of Sweden and Finland into NATO will worsen the already strained relations between the West and Russia and China. Still, it will further complicate political relations related to the global North. The repercussions will be felt along the entire line of separation, making the two blocks even more distant and hostile. It is difficult to say whether this will lead to the Ukrainianization or Finlandization of this area. That is, whether the policy of detente or conflict will prevail. Of course, Russian aggression and brutality will influence political decisions, but accepting to pay the price of the American desire to retain power and influence should be rationalized. What is the choice of the Ukrainianization of Europe or Finlandization of the central space of the European continent? Further expansion of NATO in Scandinavia is moving towards the unfortunate first concept.
European continent might be a buffer zone
It also means that the European continent will suffer the most as a battleground between the US and Eurasia. Energy in/dependence will harm European economies, while the supply of basic foodstuffs will become increasingly complex and expensive. While the Anglo-Saxon world may be relatively peaceful, Europe would have to think deeply and wisely about its political moves. Now EU is not doing so, but spontaneously, EU members are jumping from the wrong move to the next one. Most serious problems are directed at Berlin through the heavy burden of responsibility. The accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO should make Berlin's position more fragile.
In 1993, the Irish band U2 dedicated the entire album to the birth of the EU calling it “Zooropa”. The title track is a sarcastic textual review of consumerist European discourse. The authors used the slogans of large companies to contextualize the disorientation of the countries of the Old Continent, but in the end, hope was still expressed. It takes more to establish hope than to be led by technology (Vorsprung Durch Technik). Consensus, understanding and concessions are needed. It means to make the broad belt of states between the superblocks a space of cooperation. Otherwise, it will be a space of lethal conflicts. Yet, what we really need is a Europe led by wisdom (von Weisheit geleitet).
AA/Assoc. Prof. Dr. Admir Mulaosmanovic