In the most prominent military conflict in Europe since World War Two, Russia issued a barely veiled threat to Finland and Sweden that warned of military consequences if they move to join the NATO alliance. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova declared Friday that the two countries should refrain from security moves that are harmful to the “security of other countries.”
After launching an all-out offensive on Ukraine after demanding written assurances that Moscow’s neighbor will not be part of NATO, Russia turned its sights to two Scandinavian countries. Zakharova said Finland’s non-alignment policy helps “ensure security and stability in northern Europe,” and deviation from that policy can bring “military and political consequences.”
Finland, which shares an 830-mile border with Russia, was drawn into the war of words after Prime Minister Sanna Marin said Thursday that the discussion over NATO membership “will change” in Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, however, said Friday that he does not see the Russian statement as a threat but rather an acknowledgment of countersteps the Kremlin will take if Finland joins NATO, thus bringing the defensive military alliance to its border.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson took a more firm stand in a joint news conference with the country’s military commander after Zakharova’s declaration. “I want to be extremely clear. It is Sweden that itself and independently decides on our security policy line.”
Both countries navigated the Cold War without formal alliances with the Warsaw Pact or the Western alliance, including NATO, the US, and its allies. But experts now predict both will now strongly reconsider their security decisions and likely strengthen their defensive ties with the military alliances, with or without actual membership. Both are EU members and are “observer nations” with NATO, which provides a seat at the table without officially joining.
Analysts now debate whether the Russian threats will push the Scandinavian neighbors, who cooperate closely with each other economically and militarily, into NATO. Polls in both countries, obviously taken before the Ukraine invasion, do not reflect a large appetite in the populace for either to rescind their non-aligned status. Still, the present crisis could change that sentiment quickly.
Finland and Sweden already allow NATO to conduct military exercises on their soil. In recent years, they have strengthened their bilateral cooperation with neighboring Norway, a member of NATO, and the United States and Great Britain. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that the alliance would defend member states should Putin turn Russia’s military might towards them.
President Joe Biden said Thursday that if Russian forces enter NATO countries, “we will be involved.”