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Putin looks on during his meeting with the Lebanese president at the Kremlin in Moscow.

REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Is NATO expansion bad for Russia?

For the first time in nearly two decades, NATO just got a lot closer to Russia’s borders. At a summit in Madrid on Wednesday, alliance leaders formally invited Sweden and Finland to join, ending more than half a century of neutrality by both countries.

At the same time, the alliance adopted a new strategic plan in which Russia has gone from being the West’s “strategic partner” to its “most significant threat.” And to underscore the point, NATO is putting more than 300,000 troops on high alert against Russian aggression.

Looks pretty bad for Vladimir Putin, wouldn’t you say? Well, let’s consider a few perspectives.

Yes, of course it’s very bad. NATO’s border with Russia has just doubled to more than 1,600 miles, and those two new members are no strategic slouches. Sweden and Finland are both highly advanced militaries with decades of experience keeping a close eye on Russia, especially the Finns.

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Paige Fusco

What is Turkey thinking?

It’s been over a month since Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO. But despite expectations of a speedy process, the joint bid has been met by an unexpected and troublesome obstacle: Turkey.

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Ari Winkleman

NATO debates Russia and Trump

NATO defense ministers will wrap up important meetings in Brussels later today ahead of a crucial summit of the alliance’s heads of state in Madrid at the end of June. This is a crucial moment in the history of the world’s largest-ever and most successful security alliance. Russia’s war on Ukraine has given the organization a sense of unity and purpose it hasn’t had since the Cold War. NATO leaders will now try to use this boost to prepare for the complex challenges ahead.

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NATO’s Tough Choices Ahead | GZERO World

NATO’s tough choices ahead

Is NATO stronger today than it was before Russia invaded Ukraine?

Certainly, former US State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter tells Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, but now the tougher issue is how the alliance can say yes to Finland and Sweden but no to Ukraine, despite spending billions of dollars to help the Ukrainians fight the Russians.

"If you say yes to Ukraine, well, surely you have to say yes to Moldova and to Belarus and to Georgia, and then where are you?"

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Finland & Sweden Joining NATO Will Strengthen NATO As Western Alliance | Europe In :60 | GZERO Media

Finland and Sweden NATO bid faces problems with Turkey’s Erdogan

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on European politics from Nuuk, Greenland.

Will Sweden and Finland join NATO?

Well, they have decided, Finland is in the process of a parliamentary process. Sweden took the government decision today to apply for membership of NATO. That means that they will hand in their applications within a day or two, that’s dependent upon some technical details. And then it is up to the NATO members to decide whether they will be accepted or not. It’s welcomed by most countries. The Russian reaction, so far, has been perhaps somewhat more subdued than you could expect; they have other issues to deal with at the moment. There are some problems with Mr. Erdogan in Turkey who wants to extract some concessions on completely unrelated issues. But I would hope, and I would guess, that this would be sorted out. And this will no doubt strengthen NATO as a Western alliance, a cohesive alliance, determined to do its contribution to the stability of Europe with the support also of the administration in Washington.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan holds a news conference during a NATO summit in Brussels.

REUTERS/Yves Herman

Turkey can't afford to pick fights

Turkey has thrown an eleventh-hour spanner into historic bids by Finland and Sweden to join NATO over supposed terrorist presence in the Nordic countries linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a militant group Ankara regards as a terrorist organization. On Monday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to block the applications. (NATO accession requires approval from all current members of the alliance.)

Erdoğan's tirade aside, NATO's longtime bad boy is expected to ultimately back off without too big a fuss. The Turks will try to get some concessions, and bringing up the Kurds always plays well domestically, but Turkey previously told the Finns and Swedes that it wouldn’t close the door to their NATO membership.

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Flags wave outside NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

What We're Watching: Nordics to join NATO, India says no wheat for you, Lebanon's election

Finland & Sweden heart NATO

In a historic decision for two long-neutral countries opposed to military alliances, Finland and Sweden confirmed Sunday that they'll apply to join NATO in response to Russia's war in Ukraine. The Finns came out first and immediately informed Vladimir Putin, while the Swedes only gave the go-ahead after the ruling Social Democrats finally agreed (although they are against hosting NATO bases or nuclear weapons). The two Nordic countries are expected to formally submit their applications in the coming days, but their bids may have hit a last-minute snag: NATO member Turkey resents the Finns and Swedes for their historic support for the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which Ankara considers a terrorist organization. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg hopes the two sides will be able to iron out their differences quickly, but Turkish demands could delay the process. Meanwhile, Putin warned Finland — which shares an 800-mile border with Russia — that joining the alliance will be a "historic mistake" and cut off the Finns from Russian-generated electricity. Still, it seems that NATO's Nordic expansion is in the works — and there’s nothing Putin can do about it.

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Johnson meets Swedish PM Magdalena Andersson in Stockholm.

EYEPRESS via Reuters Connect

What We're Watching: UK-Nordic security pact, Biden-ASEAN summit, King Abdullah II at the White House

Boris Johnson embraces NATO-bound Nordics

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed security declarations on Wednesday with Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö. These documents are promises that if either Nordic country is attacked, Britain will come to its aid. In return, Sweden and Finland promise the same support for the United Kingdom. Asked for specifics, Johnson said his government would offer “whatever Sweden requested" and would “share more intelligence, bolster military exercises, and further joint development of technology.” On specific weapons, the UK PM said that would be determined by what was requested. These are simply political promises, not security guarantees of the kind NATO membership offers. But this show of solidarity comes at a sensitive moment; Finland and Sweden are widely expected to announce their application for NATO membership in the coming days, and their governments have warned that the “gray zone” period between formal application and certain acceptance will leave them vulnerable to various forms of Russian aggression. Meanwhile, Russia’s offensive in Ukraine continues, and US intelligence now believes Moscow is planning for a long war with intentions of achieving “goals beyond the Donbas.”

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