Despite earlier threats by Russia to retaliate against Finland and Sweden, there could be a muted reaction to NATO’s decision to seek NATO membership, President Vladimir Putin suggested on Monday, as the Kremlin considers transforming Europe’s security system as a result of its attack on Ukraine.
“Russia has no problem with Finland and Sweden, and in that sense, the expansion of spending in these countries does not pose an immediate threat to us,” Putin said in a televised comment. “But the expansion of military infrastructure in the region will certainly provoke our response.”
“It simply came to our notice then. That is, problems are created by thin air, “he said, blaming the United States for the historic changes in the Nordic countries. “We will respond accordingly.”
Putin was speaking on Monday as the Swedish government announced the launch of a NATO bid with neighboring Finland, a process that coalition officials hope will end in the coming months. Prime Minister Magdalena Anderson says a large majority in Sweden’s parliament has supported joining NATO, ending decades of position outside the 30-member bloc. “We are leaving an era behind us and entering a new era,” Anderson said.
The prospects for membership of Finland and Sweden, which experts say weigh heavily on their military strength, negate Moscow’s warnings of the year, with several senior officials, including former President Dmitry Medvedev, suggesting that Russia could respond with nuclear and hypersonic weapons. Baltic Sea.
Putin’s more measured response may reflect the reality of how the Ukraine conflict has weakened Russia’s military while at the same time facing the possibility of long-term economic losses from global sanctions.
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Miko Hautala, Finland’s ambassador to the United States, said the decision was the culmination of a gradual deepening of Finnish-NATO relations that began in the 1990s, when Finland became a formal NATO partner as part of the “Partnership for Peace”. Like Sweden, Finland has long conducted joint exercises with NATO and sent troops to NATO-led missions in Afghanistan and other areas.
“This is the last step of a long journey, rather than seeing it as a sudden jump to neutral country in NATO,” he said in an interview.
Western officials hope the Nordic countries will increase security significantly, especially in northern Europe, where small and modestly protected Baltic states have long been concerned that they could be Moscow’s next target.
As part of GDP, Finland’s defense spending is the highest in Europe at 2.3 percent. Finland has a strong artillery force and they are buying 64 F-35 stealth fighters.
Hautala said growing support in Finland for NATO membership was not driven by fear, but rather by Russia’s willingness to use force against a neighboring country to recognize the changing realities in Europe.
“We do not see any direct military threat from Russia at this time. But there is a need for prudence, “he said. “Our goal is to prevent any speculation about our location, our security.”
The Finnish government said in a telephone interview with Putin on Saturday that he had been informed by Finnish President Sauli Ninistটr of Finland’s decision.
As Sweden announced its own bid to join, Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov taunted both countries, going even further than Putin, calling their move “another serious mistake with far-reaching consequences.”
“There will be a general increase in military tensions and there will be less speculation in this area,” Ryabkov told a news conference.
The Swedish government has said it will not bow to Russian coercion.
“It simply came to our notice then. This is a sovereign Swedish decision, “said Karin Olofsdota, Sweden’s ambassador to the United States.
“They may try to influence us or intimidate us, which they have to a certain extent, but we are not discouraged,” he said. “So we are ready. We are strong. We have also strengthened our security in the short term. “We saw it coming.”
At the same time, Olofsdotter said there were no plans to deploy NATO forces in the Nordic countries.
“We are joining NATO. We are all going, “he said in an interview.” But there is no talk of deploying troops in Sweden or Finland. We are taking care of our own security as much as possible.“
Hautala says Finland is ready to do its part – possibly deploying troops elsewhere in Europe – if it has access to NATO’s Article 5 Mutual Defense Guarantee.
“We also understand that there is no free lunch here, that you have to provide your own assistance to other member states,” he said. “So if others need help, I think it’s very clear that Finland will be there to help them“
Before confirming NATO’s accession, the parties must address the concerns of Turkey, a member state that has expressed concern about its relations with members of Turkey’s banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. Hautala said he hoped “we will clear it.”
Hautala, a fluent Russian speaker who served as the No. 2 official at the Finnish Embassy in Moscow As ambassador from 2011-2012 and then 2016-2020, he said he did not expect Russia to deviate from its highest goal in Ukraine despite the struggles of its military forces there, meaning a long and possibly punitive conflict in central Europe.
“I don’t think there is any chance [Putin] Will voluntarily accept any kind of solution as before the war. I do not think that the Russians have given up their basic goal, which is to control all of Ukraine, “said Hautala. “They can adjust their plans considering the wealth situation and other risks. But still, I think the roots of this war are deeper. “
Hautala’s observations stem from not only his diplomatic responsibilities – he has also served as Ninisito’s foreign policy adviser and has repeatedly met with Putin – but also from more creditor moments.
While serving in Moscow, Hautala’s son returns home from his Moscow preschool in a Russian military-style salute and march. The diplomat thought a little curious.
When he learned that the children would celebrate Russia’s May 9th Victory Day after the Red Army or contemporary military uniforms, he was even more concerned. He and his wife left their son at home. Concluding that none of the other parents had expressed concern about their 3-year-olds taking part in such demonstrations, she concluded, saying something about Russian society.
After losing confidence in the institutions, Hautala said, “Most Russians want to believe in state propaganda and they want to be proud of their military might.”
Map of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
If the Russians seek liberation in the restoration of Moscow’s historic power, it could give Putin more opportunities to pursue his goals in the war.
“There is a long-cherished notion of the western collapse of Moscow and the rise of multilateralism where Russia is one of the major players,” he said. “Ukraine is being taken over [an] An essential part of the story. “
Riga, Latvia’s Marie Ilyushina and London’s Annabel Timsit contributed to this report.