Oct. 7, 2022

Russia to blame for NATO’s growth, say Nordic nations seeking to join

Ambassadors of Sweden and Finland join Denmark and Norway for UCalgary panel
Hanne Fugl Eskjær, Roy Eriksson, Jon Elvedal Fredriksen and Urban Ahlin.
From left: Hanne Fugl Eskjær, Roy Eriksson, Jon Elvedal Fredriksen and Urban Ahlin. Adrian Shellard

When the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) officially expands its membership to include two previously neutral Nordic nations, there’s only one person to thank or blame, depending on your geopolitical viewpoint: Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The culpability of Putin’s Russia for NATO’s growth was a criticism shared by ambassadors of the newest NATO-bound nations, as Canada’s envoys from four key Nordic countries gathered at the University of Calgary to discuss the impact the invasion of Ukraine has had on the world.

“For us it was a shock when Russia attacked Ukraine, a sovereign country with internationally recognized borders — when that happened, we understood there was a totally new game in town,” said Roy Eriksson, Finland’s ambassador to Canada.

Four ambassadors gather for panel

Global security and NATO expansion were central topics on Sept. 29, as UCalgary welcomed the ambassadors from Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway for a panel discussion on world events and the ongoing battle for Ukraine.

Eriksson said February’s invasion of Ukraine saw Finnish public support for joining the world’s largest military alliance hit 62 per cent, when previously, “it had never been over 30 per cent.”

Demands to stay out of NATO backfired

The sentiment was echoed by Sweden’s Urban Ahlin, who said Putin’s demands that the two countries stay out of NATO, while at the same time ordering the invasion of Ukraine, was certain to backfire and convince citizens from both nations to join the alliance.

“When the Russian president says that ‘Sweden and Finland don’t really have a choice, I want to prevent them from becoming members,’ if he really wanted us to stay outside of NATO, that was the most stupid thing he could say,” said Ahlin, ambassador of Sweden.

“That left all the Finnish and Swedish people in a situation where ‘he’s not going to decide what we do.’ So the decision was pretty simple. We applied for membership to NATO.”

Both Sweden and Finland are expected to become full members of NATO by 2023, with only Turkey and Hungary left to ratify the deal under NATO’s current 30-country membership.

Full military contributors

The four ambassadors — also present were Hanne Fugl Eskjær, ambassador of Denmark, and Jon Elvedal Fredriksen, ambassador of Norway — made it clear the four Nordic nations would be full military contributors to NATO, and not just placid members.

“It’s a very natural thing for Denmark to have Sweden and Finland join — we have been working so closely in military co-operation for a long time, and supporting each other,” said  Eskjær.

Moderated by Dr. Rob Huebert, PhD, associate professor of Political Science, and director of UCalgary’s International Relations Program, The Nordics and NATO: The New Normal - Rebalancing Global Security included a Q-and-A session with the ambassadors.

Other attending dignitaries

Other UCalgary dignitaries included Dr. Cheryl Dueck, PhD, senior academic director (international); Dr. Penny Werthner, interim provost and vice-president (academic); and Dr. Janaka Ruwanpura, vice-provost and associate vice-president research (international) .

Dr. Ed McCauley, UCalgary president and vice-chancellor, also attended the event, while welcoming the guests and audience to a reception afterward.

Jason Luan, minister of community and social services spoke at the event, while Judith Romanchuk, hon. consul for Finland in Calgary helped to co-ordinate and also spoke at the event.

The Nordics and NATO event was co-organized by UCalgary International, UCalgary Political Science Department, the Calgary Consular Corps, the Canada West Foundation, Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI) and the liaison for the Nordic Ambassadors.

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