BRUSSELS — Russia warned Finland and Sweden on Thursday that if they join NATO, Moscow will reinforce the Baltic Sea region, including with nuclear weapons.
Helsinki and Stockholm are officially nonaligned militarily, but they are reconsidering their status in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — leading to escalated warnings from Russia.
Dmitry Medvedev, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who serves as deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said Thursday that NATO expansion would lead Moscow to strengthen air, land and naval forces to “balance” military capability in the region.
“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,” he wrote on Telegram.
“There can be no more talk of any nuclear-free status for the Baltic — the balance must be restored,” Medvedev said.
His comments echo those of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who told British media last week that if the two Nordic countries join NATO, Russia would be forced to “rebalance the situation.” He added, “We’ll have to make our western flank more sophisticated in terms of ensuring our security.”
Putin cited his opposition to NATO expansion as the rationale for his invasion of Ukraine. His war may do the very thing he sought to prevent: cause the alliance’s membership to increase.
Adding Finland and Sweden to NATO would redraw Northern Europe’s security picture, bringing the alliance’s border right to the more than 800-mile Finnish-Russian frontier.
A key tenet of NATO is Article 5, an agreement that an armed attack on one member will be viewed as an attack on all, with an obligation for mutual defense. In both Finland and Sweden, that sounds increasingly appealing.
In both countries, Russia’s attack on its neighbor Ukraine has led to a sharp shift in public sentiment on NATO, with more people supporting membership.
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said Wednesday that her country was reviewing the decision but could move quickly.
“We have to be prepared for all kinds of actions from Russia,” Marin told reporters. “I won’t give any kind of timetable when we will make our decisions, but I think it will happen quite fast — within weeks, not within months.”
Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats, who have traditionally opposed NATO membership, have also said they will review their position in the coming months.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels last week that both countries meet alliance standards and would be welcomed should they wish to join.
“There are no other countries that are closer to NATO,” he said.