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May 17, 2022

Finland and Sweden Add to Putin’s Woes

By defying Russia’s warnings not to join NATO, the two Scandinavian countries are sending a strong and perhaps pivotal message.

If you think you’ve had a rough go of it lately, consider the case of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Less than three months ago, he seemed at the top of his game, flexing his muscles as an energy hyperpower, building up troop strength at the Ukrainian border, and menacing the Western world with impunity. Then, on Thursday, February 24, the day he launched his ill-conceived invasion of Ukraine, everything began to come apart.

In an instant, nearly the entire world turned on him. The Ukrainian fighters defended their land ferociously, their as-yet unheralded president outshone Putin with his mettle and charisma, and the only “victories” Putin’s troops seemed to score were via long-range artillery or air strikes — many of them appearing to be war crimes. Since that time, Russian forces have had precious little to celebrate as their leader continues to wage a brutal war of Nazi-like aggression.

And this weekend came the remarkable news that first Finland and then Sweden would defy Putin’s repeated warnings and apply to join NATO. As Fox News reports:

Last November, 20 percent of all Finns wanted to join NATO, now nearly 80 percent want to join, according to recent polls, a dramatic shift in public sentiment after decades of neutrality after World War II. “I think the major change of course, was the Russian attack, because the popular mood started to change rapidly after that,” [Finland’s Ambassador to the U.S. Mikko] Hautela said. “The attack on Ukraine, which was totally illegal. It was unprovoked. I think it shocked the Finns in a profound way because they saw that their neighbor is really capable of such an action.”

That’s a stunning turnaround in Finnish public opinion, and Putin has no one to blame but himself — and perhaps the Ukrainian people, who’ve shown that it’s possible to stare down and battle back against the Russia bear.

And Finland, which shares a nearly 1,300-mile border with Russia, would bring much to the NATO table. Unlike many current members of the alliance, the Nordic country is already spending more than 2% of its GDP on defense. “We have a large army,” said Hautela. “We have a modern Air Force. I think one of the best in Europe. We have a huge artillery. I think it can be even the biggest one after Russia. It’s really, it’s really strong. 76% of our population is ready to defend our country militarily, regardless of the outcome.”

Upon hearing the news, Putin’s response to the Finnish president, Sauil Niinisto, was rather subdued. No threats of invasion or nuclear strike. Perhaps Putin feels NATO member Turkey is his ace in the hole. The only Islamic country in the alliance could scuttle Finnish and Swedish plans, since all 30 NATO members must approve any new entries into the alliance. As The Wall Street Journal reports, “Turkey is pressing Sweden and Finland to clamp down on what it calls Kurdish terrorist activity in the two Nordic states and drop their restrictions on arms sales to [Turkey].”

“We are not closing the door,” said a Turkish spokesman. “But we are basically raising this issue as a matter of national security for Turkey.”

Finally, there was the matter of Putin’s health, and we’re in a bit of a quandary here. We believe that something — perhaps more than one thing — may be wrong with the Russian Not-So-Strongman. We’ve heard the reports from apparently well-connected Russian oligarchs about his poor health, about “blood cancer” and perhaps Parkinson’s disease or some other neurological disorder, and we’ve seen the videos of him seeming to tremble. But of course the Kremlin is being tight-lipped. After all, it’s got a war to lose.

Our reluctance, though, is due to one of the sources reporting on Putin’s ill health. That would be a former British spook, an MI6 guy who ran the agency’s Russia desk from 2006 to 2009, who’s now saying things like: “Certainly, from what we’re hearing from sources in Russia and elsewhere, is that Putin is, in fact, quite seriously ill. … It’s not clear exactly what this illness is — whether it’s incurable or terminal, or whatever. But certainly, I think it’s part of the equation.”

Normally, we’d think a man with those credentials would be serious, credible, believable. But this man? Not so much. His name is Christopher Steele — yes, that Christopher Steele, that rotten scumbag and author of the so-called Steele dossier. All of this just reminds us that speculation on Putin’s health is just that: pure speculation.

Still, if you’re having a bad day, try putting yourself in the Russian president’s shoes.

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