Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said Monday her country will apply to join NATO, shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin warned there will be consequences as Finland and Sweden are on the brink of joining NATO that the Kremlin has indicated could be nuclear.
Andersson confirmed Sweden’s NATO bid a day after Finnish President Sauli Niinisto announced his country’s intention to join the alliance.
Speaking at a meeting in Moscow earlier Monday with several Kremlin-aligned leaders, Putin said Sweden and Finland joining NATO would “certainly provoke our response” according to Reuters’ translation of his comments.
Finland and Sweden’s NATO bids break a long history of neutrality for the Nordic countries in a move that would add a significant land border between Russia and the military alliance and represent a major fallout from Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine that Putin said was due to NATO’s increasing eastern presence.
Putin did not specify Monday what Russia may do should its Nordic neighbors join NATO, saying Russia “will see what threats are created for us,” according to Reuters.
Though Putin didn’t say Monday, the Kremlin has previously suggested it may respond to Finland and Sweden’s NATO potential accession with nuclear weapons.
Last month, Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s former president and the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said Russia may deploy nuclear weapons in the Baltic Sea should Finland and Sweden join NATO—and a presenter on the state-run Russia-1 television station said Sunday Russia will have “no choice” but to deploy nuclear weapons to “neutralize” the threat, according to the BBC’s translation.
Putin said Monday he has “no problem” with Finland and Sweden and that the two joining NATO doesn’t pose a “direct threat” to Russia, the New York Times reported. Putin’s statement strays from the Kremlin’s prior comments about the countries’ NATO bids, as the Russian Foreign Ministry said last week that the move would threaten to upend the “stability and security” of Northern Europe, indicating the Russian government is on its back foot following the historic applications from Finland and Sweden.
Russian electricity provider Inter RAO cut off exports to Finland Saturday in an act of apparent retaliation for its plans to apply for NATO membership.
What We Don’t Know
Whether Turkey will prevent Finland and Sweden from joining NATO. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday he does not support the countries’ bid to join the alliance, representing a major roadblock as accession to NATO requires unanimous approval among its 30 member countries.
What To Watch For
How quickly the U.S. ratifies Finland and Sweden’s NATO applications. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) said in a joint press conference with Niinisto Monday he believes Congress will ratify Finland’s application before the legislature goes on its August recess. McConnell’s statement Monday was before Sweden’s announcement, though he said Sunday he supports both countries’ NATO bids.
Since NATO’s inception in 1949 and through the Cold War, Sweden and Finland remained neutral militarily, though the two became more closely linked to NATO following Russia’s invasion and subsequent annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Both countries cited Russia’s invasion of Ukraine launched February 24 as a key reason for their NATO bids. “Everything has changed when Russia attacked Ukraine,” Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said Sunday in her press conference officially announcing Finland’s NATO application, according to CNN’s translation.
From neutral to NATO: How Finland, Sweden shifted over Russia invasion (Washington Post)