Sweden, Finland, and Switzerland are historically known for their neutrality with regard to their foreign policies. Well, not anymore. The three countries are breaking their streak of neutrality on foreign affairs amidst the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. Within the past few days of military and political developments, the three have notably agreed to adopt the economic sanctions imposed by the European Union on Moscow, while Sweden has called to impose tougher, more stringent sanctions on the Russian invaders.

In fact, just as recent as today, the three countries had voted in favor of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution deploring the Russian invasion of Ukraine, calling for the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops on Ukrainian soil. They join 138 other countries in this historic vote. Even Austria and Ireland, both of which also classify themselves as neutral, voted in favor of the resolution.

The United Nations General Assembly after the voting results had been shared on the screens. The announcement was met with thunderous applause from the assembly (TASS/AP Photo/Seth Wenig via The Moscow Times)

Times are indeed changing. With the situation in Ukraine worsening as Russian bombardments have not stopped, the usage of cluster bombs, and with the targeting of civilian populations, neutral countries are now making a stand with Ukraine in an unprecedented shift in foreign policy.

“Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine is a new dark chapter in the history of Europe. But the attack on Ukraine has clearly demonstrated the unity of the EU’s 27 Member States against Russian aggression and for solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Now is the time for even tougher sanctions and even greater support,” said Sweden’s EU Minister Hans Dahlgren.

Cooperation from these countries provides a stark contrast to their impartiality in recent years. Finland had stayed independent ever since the USSR’s collapse. For the longest time, Sweden and Switzerland have maintained a non-aligned status even through the Second World War and the Cold War. All three countries are not members of NATO, with the Swiss not even part of the European Union to ensure its neutrality. However, in the present, these countries have not only joined NATO allies in imposing economic sanctions but have essentially aligned their beliefs to that of the West. Such change marks a crucial shift in EU foreign policy.

Last December 2021, Russia demanded security guarantees from the United States and NATO. They issued two draft documents that opposed the expansion of NATO and promoted the establishment of Russian influence in eastern Europe. The brashness of the proposals further fueled already heated foreign policy debates in Finland and Sweden. However, Putin’s action in Ukraine seems to have brought him contradictory results.

“Not only is NATO more unified, look at what’s going on in terms of Finland, look at what’s going on in terms of Sweden, look at what’s going on in other countries. I mean, he’s producing the exact opposite effect that he intended,” said US President Joe Biden in an interview with Brian Tyler Cohen.

Support from Scandinavia

President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö met with Prime Minister of Sweden Magdalena Andersson at the Presidential Palace on Wednesday, 8 December 2021 (Matti Porre/The Office of the President of the Republic of Finland). Source: https://www.presidentti.fi/en/news/president-niinisto-met-with-prime-minister-of-sweden-magdalena-andersson/
President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö met with Prime Minister of Sweden Magdalena Andersson at the Presidential Palace on Wednesday, December 8, 2021 (Matti Porre/The Office of the President of the Republic of Finland)

The two Nordic countries, Sweden and Finland, have agreed to adopt the EU’s economic sanctions on Russia and have expressed their support for the people of Ukraine. Both have also agreed to close their air space for Russian airplanes. Some Swedish and Finnish companies have also pulled out their operations from Russia. In a historical foreign policy move, the two countries even announced that they would be sending military equipment to Ukraine. Sweden is sending 5,000 anti-tank weapons, 5,000 helmets, 5,000 units of body armor, and 135,000 field rations to the beleaguered country. The last time Sweden offered this level of participation in the armed conflict between two nations was when the Soviet Union attacked Finland in 1939. During WWII, Swedish neutrality meant it traded with both the Allies and Nazi Germany.