Finland’s NATO Membership and Polar Silk Road Project

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Finland is a state that has followed a policy of military neutrality for many years. However, upon the start of the Russia-Ukraine War, the threat perceptions of the country in question gained a new dimension and Finland abandoned this policy. Finland is a state that has pursued a policy of military neutrality for many years. For this reason, the Helsinki administration applied for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The application in question is generally evaluated within the scope of NATO, Europe, the United States (US) and Russia. However, the signs of progress affect the Arctic geopolitics, and therefore China, directly and indirectly.

China, acting with a global vision, announced the Belt and Road Initiative project in 2013. The Beijing governance, which wants to continuously improve this project and make it more inclusive with alternative routes, has started to be more intensely involved in the increasing competition in the Arctic in the 2000s. In addition, China thought that melting glaciers provided an advantage in reaching riches both in Europe and in the region.

In the mentioned document, it is written that a blue economic gateway reaching Europe via the Arctic is envisioned.[1] Trying to create a worldwide network through corridors, China wants to reach Europe by travelling north of Russia through the Bering Strait with the Polar Silk Road Project.

As it is known, states other than Russia, which has a coast on the Arctic, position themselves within the Western World. This situation leads to the isolation of Russia. On the other hand, Moscow wanted China to be present in the region to both break its loneliness and balance the West. Even though tensions tended to increase in the region during the period, the conjuncture was not negative for China. Finland’s neutral position made it possible for China to develop cooperation with this country. Since Finland and Sweden were not NATO members, Russia was also in an advantageous position.

After a while, the developments in the region started to evolve into a negative process for China and Russia. For instance, NATO classified Moscow and Beijing as direct threats in its document titled “NATO 2030: United for a New Era”[2] announced on 25 November 2020. This was a sign that the activities of the two states caused unrest in the eyes of the USA and NATO.

The increasing tension and rivalry in the Arctic reached their maximum level with the Russia-Ukraine War. Furthermore, Finland and Sweden’s application for membership in NATO led to an increase in the influence of Western actors in the region. If both states are members of NATO, Russia will become even more isolated as the only regional state that is not a member of the Alliance. Moreover, this isolation becomes structural. Because of this, Russia’s membership in the Arctic Council was suspended. The Moscow administration, on the other hand, is working closely with Beijing to internationalize the region and weaken the hand of Western actors. Notably, the efforts of the anti-US and anti-NATO countries to internationalize the Arctic and the fact that this is done through Moscow deepen the unrest in the West.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, in a statement he made on 26 August 2022, Russia has established a new Arctic Command, and is testing new weapon systems in the region; China is increasing its access to the Arctic and Beijing is investing billions of dollars; finally, he stated that both states have deepened their strategic partnership relationship in a way that challenges the values and interests of the West.[3] This statement clearly shows that NATO has coded China as a threat in the Arctic as well as Russia and is trying to send a message to its members.

The US-based RAND Corporation states in a report that China’s influence in the Arctic and its access to the region will increase within ten years if Beijing and Moscow make closer relations.[4] Therefore, it can be said that attempts to marginalize China, which disturbs the USA and NATO, are gaining momentum. The intensification of NATO’s anti-Chinese stance not only Beijing’s with the organization but also negatively affects its relations with member states.

The increasing anti-Chinese sentiment in the West and the Arctic’s transformation into a competitive area has also brought into question the Polar Silk Road Project, which Beijing is trying to implement for this region. One of China’s goals is to reach Europe via a shorter, lower-cost, and safer route than the Pacific. While Finland is developing its pragmatist relations with China; especially planned to be a port opening to Europe. On the other hand, China would be able to acquire a base in the region, reach Europe by a different route, have a presence in the Arctic, and gain opportunities for military expansion, including intelligence. However, despite the progresses between the sides, there was scepticism in Finland. In this context, projects with China began to be cancelled and Beijing’s activities in the region began to be limited.[5]

Today, it can be said that this attitude has intensified even more. Because China does not show any reaction to Russia. It can also be said that the war in Ukraine has turned into a war of values. At this point, Finland seems to have chosen to distance itself from actors who do not accept Western values. On the other hand, it is possible to say that Finland will act within the framework of the document “NATO 2030: United for a New Era” if it joins NATO. Therefore, Beijing is losing one of its safest ports in Europe.

As a result, increasing polarization in the world and the Arctic poses a significant threat to China’s projects. In the past, Finland was considered one of the most important choices in the Arctic for China; nowadays, this situation is changing.[6] In other words, at a time when the Russia-Ukraine War significantly shaped the security perception of European states, suspicions about China are also increasing. Moreover, one of the factors affecting this process is the USA. Therefore, the policies of the USA caused increased concerns against Russia and China. The Prime Minister of Finland Sanna Marin’s statements that Europe cannot be secured without the United States can be seen as a reflection of this. As a result, it seems that an important purpose of the Polar Silk Road Project, which China is trying to implement to reach Europe, has disappeared. It can be said that he will instrumentalize this project only to reach the westernmost part of Russia and to have a presence in the Arctic.

[1] “Full Text: Vision for Maritime Cooperation Under the Belt and Road Initiative”,,, (Date of Accession: 02.01.2023).

[2] “NATO 2030: United for a New Era”, NATO,, (Date of Accessionion: 02.01.2023).

[3] “Joint Press Conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau”, NATO,, (Date of Accession: 02.01.2023).

[4] Kristin Huang, “Warm Russian Ties are Key to China’s Arctic Aspirations: Report”, SCMP,, (Date of Accession: 02.01.2023).

[5] Matti Puranen-Sanna Kopra, “Finland and the Demise of China’s Polar Silk Road”, The Jamestown Foundation,, (Date of Accession: 02.01.2023).

[6] Sanna Kopra-Matti Puranen, “China’s Arctic Ambitions Face Increasing Headwinds in Finland”, The Diplomat,, (Date of Accession: 02.01.2023).

Dr. Emrah KAYA
ANKASAM Dış Politika Uzmanı Dr. Emrah Kaya, Akdeniz Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezundur. Yüksek lisans derecesini 2014 yılında Süleyman Demirel Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nde hazırladığı “Latin Amerika'da Sol Liderlerin Yükselişi ve Uluslararası Politikaya Etkisi: Venezuela-Bolivya Örneği” başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Kaya, doktora derecesini de 2022 yılında aynı üniversitede hazırladığı "Terörle Mücadelede Müzakere Yöntemi: ETA-FARC-LTTE-PKK" başlıklı teziyle elde etmiştir. İyi derecede İngilizce bilen Kaya'nın başlıca çalışma alanları; Orta Asya, Latin Amerika, terörizm ve barış süreçleridir.