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Live Updates: Russia’s War in Ukraine

Finland is about to join NATO while Sweden is about to follow suit. Here’s what you need to know about how the war in Ukraine brought the two Nordic states closer to the US-backed alliance, and what’s next:

Why haven’t Finland and Sweden already joined NATO?

While other Nordic countries like Norway, Denmark and Iceland were original members of the alliance, Sweden and Finland did not join the pact for historical and geopolitical reasons.

Finland, which declared independence from Russia in 1917 after the Bolshevik Revolution, and Sweden took neutral foreign policy positions during the Cold War, refusing to align themselves with the Soviet Union or the United States.

For Finland, this proved more difficult, as it shared a massive border with an authoritarian superpower. To keep the peace, the Finns adopted a process that some call “Finlandization”, in which the rulers acceded to Soviet demands from time to time.

The balancing acts of the two countries effectively ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. They joined the European Union together in 1995 and gradually aligned their defense policies with the West, while avoiding joining NATO outright.

Each country had different reasons for avoiding signing the NATO pact in tandem with the EU.

For Finland, it was more geopolitical. The threat to Russia is more tangible thanks to the 830-mile common border between the two countries.

“Finland was the exposed country, and we were the protected country,” former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in a joint interview alongside former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb.

While an independent nation, Sweden’s geography places it in the same “strategic environment” as its liberal Democrat neighbors, Bildt said. Finland and Sweden have enjoyed a close partnership for decades, with Stockholm seeing its decision to refrain from joining NATO as a way to help steer Helsinki away from the heat. Now, however, Sweden is likely to follow Finland’s lead.

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