Russia vowed Thursday that if Finland and Sweden join NATO, Moscow would bolster its troop presence and deploy nuclear weapons around the Baltic region.
Finland, which shares an 830-mile border with Russia, and Sweden, located across the Baltic Sea, have been open about their interest in joining the 30-member Atlantic alliance after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded neighbouring Ukraine on Feb. 24.
The Nordic countries are currently nonaligned military but their leaders have said they would decide on joining NATO in the coming weeks.
“No more talk of any nuclear-free status for the Baltic”- Putin
“If Sweden and Finland join NATO, the length of the land borders of the alliance with the Russian Federation will more than double. Naturally, these boundaries will have to be strengthened,” said Dmitry Medvedev, a Putin ally and deputy chairman of Russia’s security council.
He went on to raise the nuclear stakes by saying that there can be “no more talk of any nuclear-free status for the Baltic.”
Medvedev added that Russia hadn’t been planning on bolstering its Baltic forces, but must now reconsider
Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said that should Sweden and Finland join NATO then Russia would have to strengthen its land, naval, and air forces in the Baltic Sea.
Medvedev also explicitly raised the nuclear threat by saying that there could be no more talk of a “nuclear-free” Baltic – where Russia has its Kaliningrad exclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania.
“There can be no more talk of any nuclear-free status for the Baltic – the balance must be restored,” said Medvedev, who was Russian president from 2008 to 2012.
Medvedev said he hoped Finland and Sweden would see sense. If not, he said, they would have to live with nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles close to home.
When asked how Washington views the potential addition of Sweden and Finland to NATO in light of Russia’s warning, the U.S. State Department said there was no change in Washington’s position and repeated that “NATO’s open door is an open door.”
“Without speaking to any countries, in particular, we would not be concerned that the expansion of a defensive alliance would do anything other than promoting stability on the European continent,” Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a briefing.
The nuclear proficiency of the countries in question
Russia has the world’s biggest arsenal of nuclear warheads and along with China and the United States is one of the global leaders in hypersonic missile technology.
Lithuania said Russia’s threats were nothing new and that Moscow had deployed nuclear weapons to Kaliningrad long before the war in Ukraine. NATO did not immediately respond to Russia’s warning.
Still, the possible accession of Finland and Sweden into NATO – founded in 1949 to provide Western security against the Soviet Union – would be one of the biggest strategic consequences of the war in Ukraine.
Finland gained independence from Russia in 1917 and fought two wars against it during World War Two during which it lost some territory. On Thursday, Finland announced a military exercise in western Finland with the participation of Britain, the United States, Latvia, and Estonia.
Sweden has not fought a war for 200 years. Foreign policy has focused on supporting democracy and nuclear disarmament.
Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine has killed thousands of people, displaced millions, and raised fears of a wider confrontation between Russia and the United States – by far the world’s two biggest nuclear powers.
Putin says the “special military operation” in Ukraine is necessary because the United States was using Ukraine to threaten Russia and Moscow had to defend against the persecution of Russian-speaking people.
Ukraine says it is fighting an imperial-style land grab and that Putin’s claims of genocide are nonsense. U.S. President Joe Biden says Putin is a war criminal and a dictator.
Putin says the conflict in Ukraine is part of a much broader confrontation with the United States which he says is trying to enforce its hegemony even as its dominance over the international order declines.