But the move has massively backfired, with Finland and Sweden now set to break with decades of neutrality and join – bringing NATO to an 800-mile stretch of the Russian border while boosting the alliance with two top-of-the-range armies.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenburg says they will be welcomed ‘with open arms’, and it is easy to see why. With them they bring tens of thousands of troops, a formidable arsenal of artillery, top-notch spying capabilities and some of the quietest and deadliest submarines in the world.
And, crucially, all of those reinforcements will be positioned close to the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania which have long-been NATO’s weakest spot and among the most-likely members to be attacked.
Finland and Sweden have small but highly-specialised militaries with a number of weapons that will worry Russia, all of which will soon be at NATO’s disposal
Finland has a small but highly-specialised military, almost the sole purpose of which is to prepare for an attack by Russia.
Though it has only around 20,000 active troops, the country still has compulsory military service with all men under the age of 30 required to serve for at least a year.
That means its force could be quickly boosted to a war-time strength of 280,000, with another 900,000 reserves to call upon in the event of all-out conflict.
It also has the continent’s largest stock of long-range artillery including more than 700 howitzers, along with dozens of heavy mortars and rocket artillery.
These weapons have proved adept at taking out Russian tanks in Ukraine but, unlike Kyiv, Finland operates some of the most up-to-date systems such as the American-made M270 multiple-launch rocket system.
It also possesses large amounts of anti-aircraft missiles which have played havoc with the Russian air force in Ukraine, and has recently purchased 64 of America’s latest-generation F-35 fighters – far superior to Ukraine’s Soviet-era MiGs.
A Finnish Leopard tank – built in Germany and considered one of the world’s best – takes part in drills earlier this year
Finland has Europe’s largest collection of artillery, amassed almost exclusively with the aim of thwarting a cross-border attack from Russia
Jonathan Eyal, of the Royal United Services Institute, told The Times that Finland also has a near-legendary intelligence-gathering capabilities, including a large number of Russian-speaking spies and proficiency with deciphering its troop movements.
Finally, Finnish troops are adept at fighting on their home terrain which largely consists of heavy forests, lakes, and a southern archipelago that makes for much harder fighting-ground than the wide open fields of Ukraine.
It is a lesson Russia has already learned the hard way, after seeing some 150,000 troops butchered during the year-long Winter War compared to just 25,000 Fins.
Just one Finnish sniper – the legendary Simo Häyhä, dubbed ‘White Death’ – is credited with killed 500 of Moscow’s men.
Sami Nurmi, one of Finland’s top generals, recalled that war when he told The National recently: ‘We’re a simple and stubborn people but it’s also our history, that tradition and memories that we have of the Second World War.
‘We never trusted our eastern neighbour in such a way that we could give up general conscription or development of our defences, so we have always kept the possibility of military force being used against us.’
Sweden’s submarines are so quiet and deadly that one of them managed to ‘sink’ an American Nimitz-class aircraft carrier during training drills in the mid-2000s
Sweden shares no direct land border with Russia but does look out across the Baltic Sea to Russia’s European enclave of Kaliningrad, which is where attack is almost certain to come from.
As such, its land forces and reserves are no match for Finland’s – but it does have a huge array of fast attack ships, a larger air force, and some of the world’s quietest and deadliest submarines.
In fact, Sweden’s submarines are so stealthy that on one occasion during training drills in the late 2000s, one of them managed to ‘sink’ the USS Ronald Reagan – one of America’s Nimitz carriers – during training exercises.
And Stockholm’s fleet of five subs has been upgraded since then to make them quieter, deadlier, and more than a match for any ship in Russia’s fleet.
Sweden also possesses a large fleet of fast-attack boats – the CB90 – which are highly manoeuvrable, can carry sea mines and Hellfire missiles, and transport half a platoon of fully armed soldiers.
The country was also the co-developer of the NLAW anti-tank missile with the UK, which has wreaked havoc on Russian tanks in Ukraine.
Finland has been bound to a code of neutrality since the end of the Winter War as part of a peace deal it signed with the Soviet Union, and Sweden’s own neutrality dates back to the Napoleonic era.
But both countries have decided to break