Putin’s New “Red Line” for Nuclear War: Sweden and Finland in NATO

May 20th, 2022 - by Paul D. Shinkman / US News and World Report & msn.com

Putin Lobs Cryptic New Threats at
Finland, Sweden for Joining NATO

Paul D. Shinkman / US News and World Report & msn.com

(May 17, 2022) — Russian President Vladimir Putin lobbed new threats at Finland and Sweden as NATO prepares to consider their formal applications for membership, saying Russia did not necessarily view their joining the Cold War-era alliance as a direct threat but that it would have to respond “accordingly” if they began housing new Western military equipment.

“The expansion of military infrastructure to this territory will certainly cause our response,” Putin said during a meeting in Moscow of an alliance of former Soviet states known as the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

“We will look at what it will be based on the threats that will be created for us,” Putin said, adding that the new security threats Sweden and Finland now pose to Russia are new. “We will react accordingly to this.”

Sweden has stated publicly it would refuse to house nuclear weapons or new permanent NATO bases on its territory at the urging of its ruling party, the Social Democratic Party.

Putin’s new threats against the two countries – steadfastly neutral for decades, if not centuries, until Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February – comes as Russia faces continued military losses in Ukraine in the face of increasingly united international criticism of its invasion. Western officials and analysts have grown particularly concerned in recent days that the man commanding the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear warheads could respond recklessly to the high-profile routing of his Soviet-era military.

Some have even considered privately pushing Ukraine to cede some territory to Russia as a face-saving measure for Putin and a proverbial “off-ramp” from his march to war.

Following through on reports from earlier this year, Sweden confirmed Monday that it would indeed apply for membership to NATO, following Finland, which announced a similar decision last week. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto will visit Sweden on Tuesday and Wednesday, during which time the Nordic neighbors are expected to submit their formal applications.

The news would have been unthinkable three or four months ago, but the governments in Helsinki and Stockholm – longtime collaborators with NATO countries – have since capitalized on waves of public support for formally joining the alliance while also considering the very real security threats Russia now poses to their borders.

Most analysts believe the alliance will swiftly approve the inclusion of the two advanced democracies with sophisticated and experienced militaries, despite concerns from Turkey that could cause it to veto the measure.

“They will bring substantial new military capabilities, including advanced air and submarine capabilities, that will alter the security architecture of northern Europe and help deter further Russian aggression,” former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine.

“Finland and Sweden are right to have concluded from the tragic war being waged in Ukraine that they need more security,” The Economist noted in an analysis. “Putin is dangerous and unpredictable not because of NATO, but because of the way he has chosen to govern Russia.”

Both countries’ parliaments must still formally approve the measure and consider the potential dangers of this course.

“Russia would perceive Sweden’s and Finland’s efforts at NATO membership as another eastward move by the alliance that would further encircle it in the Baltic region,” according to an analysis note from private intelligence firm RANE. “While Moscow will probably respond with disruptive measures, a direct conflict between Russia and Sweden or Finland is improbable.”

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