Finland and Sweden Move Toward NATO Membership. But What About Ukraine?

[May 13: After this article was published, Sweden announced early Friday its plans to join NATO.]

WASHINGTON — In embracing Finland’s, and soon Sweden’s, move to join NATO, President Biden and his Western allies are doubling down on a bet that Russia has made such a huge strategic mistake over the past three months that now is the time to make President Vladimir V. Putin pay a major price: enduring the expansion of the Western alliance he sought to fracture.

But the decision leaves hanging several major questions. Why not allow Ukraine — the flawed, corrupt but also heroic democracy at the heart of the current conflict — to join as well, enshrining the West’s commitment to its security?

And in expanding NATO to 32 members, soon with hundreds of additional miles of border with Russia, is the military alliance helping ensure that Russia could never again mount a vicious, unprovoked invasion? Or is it only solidifying the divide with an isolated, angry, nuclear-armed adversary that is already paranoid about Western “encirclement”?

The White House welcomed the announcement on Thursday by Finland’s leaders that their country should “apply for NATO membership without delay.” Sweden’s government signaled on Friday that it could soon follow suit, after weeks of consultations with senior U.S. and European officials.

Russia, not surprisingly, objects to the moves. In response to Finland’s announcement, it said on Thursday that Moscow would take “retaliatory steps,” including a “military-technical” response, which many experts interpreted as a threat to deploy tactical nuclear weapons near the Russian-Finnish border.

To Mr. Biden and his aides, the argument for letting Finland and Sweden in, and keeping Ukraine out, is fairly straightforward. The two Nordic states are model democracies and modern militaries that the United States and other NATO nations regularly conduct exercises with, working together to track Russian subs, protect undersea…


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