5 May, 2023
Nordic-Ukrainian Summit of Leaders
Quick Comment - insights from SCEEUS's experts on breaking news and hot topics
President Zelenskyy’s unannounced visit to Finland and a summit with Nordic leaders became a surprise for the wider audience, yet if one takes a closer look the timing and destination do not seem occasional. SCEEUS experts comment on the results and meaning of the meeting.
Zelenskyy's Nordic visit, which essentially launched the president's tour of the broader European states, aims to mobilize partners' support ahead of significant developments that will take place in terms of war, Ukraine's NATO, and EU integration soon. Namely, Ukraine is preparing for a new counteroffensive, and therefore, enhanced military support from Western friends remains crucial. The NATO Vilnius Summit, as well as the European Commission's interim assessment of Ukraine's seven reforms implementation, are also set to take place soon.
At the same time, the reasoning behind paying a visit to the Nordic states in particular is crystal clear. Zelenskyy's personal visit, who, within a year of war, has barely left Ukraine and only visited the US, EU institutions in Brussels, and Poland, can definitely be perceived as a gesture of gratitude to Nordic friends: NATO-newcomer Finland, EU presiding Sweden, which together with other Northern European states are reported to be the 3rd largest military aid suppliers to Ukraine (after the US and UK). The results of the visit, laid out in the joint statement, showcase that Ukraine's leader managed both to express gratitude on behalf of the nation and ensure lasting military and political support from Northern European states.
As Zelenskyy indicated in the joint press conference with Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö at Helsinki, Ukrainian bookstores now frequently feature books about Finland and especially its 1939-1940 Winter War against the Soviet Union. Finland has, in a number of ways, become a special model and partner country for Ukraine. Above all, Finland’s post-World War II foreign policy was and is a frequent reference point in commentaries on independent Ukraine’s foreign policies. Until recently, so-called “Finlandization” was a popular (if ill-conceived) formula among some international observers who advocated a Ukrainian accommodation with post-Soviet Russian neo-imperialism. More recently, Finland’s fast advance from its 2022 application for, to its 2023 obtainment of, full membership in NATO has become a popular reference point in Ukrainian discourse. Today Finland is, because of its historical experience, geographic location, strategic culture, and quick entry into NATO, by Kyiv seen as one of Ukraine’s major friends, examples and advocates within the EU and NATO.
In addition to historical symbolism, Zelenskyy using Finland as a gateway to the Nordic countries is also a way to draw parallels between Finland’s NATO accession, and Ukraine’s hope for progress in the same direction at the upcoming Vilnius summit. In a context where questions have been raised about the unity of the EU’s approach, the Nordic countries may be seen as a group of stable and reliable partners of Ukraine, something that is also reflected in the joint statement. This is based on a shared analysis of the need to be ready to withstand Russian malign action in the long term, as well as the understanding that no country in Russia’s geographical proximity can enjoy security without formalized Western security backing.