After Sweden and Finland expressed their support for Ukraine and NATO following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the two countries have reportedly responded to threats from Russia regarding possible retaliation due to potentially joining North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Director of the Second European Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry Sergei Belyaev reiterated the political and military consequences should Sweden and Finland join the alliance.
“It is obvious that Finland and Sweden’s joining NATO, which is a military organization in the first place, would have serious military and political consequences requiring us to revise the entire range of relations with these countries and take retaliatory measures,” said Belyaev to Interfax. Belyaev said that it was still too early to discuss specifics when asked about the nature of said retaliations.
“But we cannot ignore the growing intensity of Helsinki and Stockholm’s practical interaction with NATO, including participation in military exercises of the alliance, the provision by Finland and Sweden of its territory for such maneuvers conducted in close proximity of the Russian borders,” he added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has cited the expansion of NATO’s influence eastward as the primary reason for his invasion of Ukraine, saying it poses a security threat to the country. Ukraine, on several occasions, has expressed its desire to join the alliance. However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has now accepted that Ukraine will not be admitted into NATO in the near future. “For years, we have been hearing about how the door is supposedly open (to NATO membership), but now we hear that we cannot enter. And it is true, and it must be acknowledged,” the Ukrainian President said.
“I am glad that our people are beginning to understand this and rely on themselves and on our partners who assist us,” he added.
According to the aforementioned Russian director, NATO member states, particularly the United States, have made deliberate strides to draw Sweden and Finland to the alliance, including propaganda to sway public opinion.
“While evaluating the discussion about relations with NATO ongoing in Finland and Sweden, one must pay attention to statements of the authorities of the countries and opinions of military experts, rather than hysterics in media outlets,” Belyaev stated.
Representatives from the two countries responded to the Russian allegations, maintaining that their respective countries were independent of NATO’s plans and, more so, that it was independent of Russia.
“We reject that kind of statement. Swedish security policy is determined by Sweden,” said Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde. “Russia has nothing to do with our independent decisions.”
Finland also weighed in on Russia’s threats stating, “as a sovereign state makes its own security policy decisions based on our own interest,” said the Director-General of the Department for Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia at Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Marja Liivala. “It’s very important for Finland that the NATO Open Door policy remains.”
Last week, Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson soothed speculation regarding her country joining the NATO alliance in the near future, citing it would further escalate the situation in Europe.
“If Sweden would choose to file an application to NATO in this situation, it would further destabilize this part of Europe,” said Andersson. “My assessment is clear; sticking to Sweden’s long-standing, consistent policy is what serves our security best.”
The two countries have been in touch with NATO in terms of conducting joint military exercises and the sharing of intelligence. Both are part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, which allows non-NATO members in the Euro-Atlantic area to build their relationship with the alliance. However, Sweden and Finland in the past have been widely neutral and never became officially part of NATO.
What do the Swedes and Finns think of joining NATO?
Citizens of Sweden and Finland have shown increasing support for their countries to join the NATO defense treaty. This surge is primarily fueled by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which is currently pressing on the countries’ leaders to break out of their long-standing non-alignment policies.
According to a survey commissioned by Aftonbladet, 51% of their respondents agree that Sweden should join the NATO pact, with 27% opposing the idea. The results show a clear distinction from last January’s figure of 42% in favor of the country joining the alliance.
The same effect is also at play in the Swedish parliament, wherein 40% of seats belonging to opposition parties support joining NATO.
The Finns showcased similar sentiments in favor of joining NATO. A poll published by Helsingin Sanomat (HS), a prominent newspaper in Finland, says that 48% of Finns want their country to apply for membership to the NATO alliance. According to the HS, the figure was 20% higher than the results last January.
What are the implications of Sweden and Finland joining NATO?
Having the two countries join NATO would spell trouble for the Russian Federation. It would also provide reassurance to their regional neighbors who are either part of NATO or lean toward them.
NATO members, particularly Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, are often targeted by Moscow, given their significant Russian minorities which Moscow claims must be protected from the depredations of Western influences. These countries greatly benefit from having Sweden and Finland on their list of allies if they were to officially join NATO.
For Russia, having the two Nordic countries, particularly Finland, join NATO will make the alliance’s collective border with Russia longer. This will make it more difficult for the Kremlin to plan their defense (or offense) in the event of a military conflict. An extended front would also imply more opportunities for the West to spy on Russian activities and, more so, mobilize forces faster if a NATO member were to be attacked. If Russia attacked a NATO country, it would also mean that Sweden and Finland would no longer trade with Russia and they would find the Russian Northern Fleet located in bases like Polyarnyy, Olenya Bay, Gadzhiyevo (Yagelnaya/Sayda), Vidyayevo (Ura Bay and Ara Bay), Bolshaya Lopatka (Litsa Guba), and Gremikha cut off from access to the North Atlantic and bottled up in port, unless they were prepared to fight their way in and out of the Baltic Sea and the Norwegian Sea.
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