One of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies warned NATO on Thursday that if Sweden and Finland joined the US-led military alliance then Russia would deploy nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles in a European exclave.
Finland, which shares a 1,300-km border with Russia, and Sweden are considering joining the NATO alliance. Finland will decide in the next few weeks, Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Wednesday.
Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said that should Sweden and Finland join NATO then Russia would have to strengthen its land, naval and air forces in the Baltic Sea, Reuters reported.
Medvedev also explicitly raised the nuclear threat by saying that there could be no more talk of a “nuclear free” Baltic – where Russia has its Kaliningrad exclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania.
“There can be no more talk of any nuclear–free status for the Baltic – the balance must be restored,” said Medvedev, who was Russian president from 2008 to 2012.
Medvedev said he hoped Finland and Sweden would see sense. If not, he said, they would have to live with nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles close to home, Reuters reported.
When asked how Washington views the potential addition of Sweden and Finland to NATO in light of Russia’s warning, the U.S. State Department said there was no change in Washington’s position and repeated that “NATO’s open door is an open door.”
“Without speaking to any countries in particular, we would not be concerned that the expansion of a defensive alliance would do anything other than promote stability on the European continent,” Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a briefing.
Russia has the world’s biggest arsenal of nuclear warheads and along with China and the United States is one of the global leaders in hypersonic missile technology.
Finland, Sweden submit application to join NATO
Finland and Sweden formally applied to join the NATO alliance on Wednesday at allied headquarters, a decision spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and setting in motion an accession process that is expected to take only a few weeks.
Sweden and Finland were both neutral throughout the Cold War, and their decision to join NATO is one of the most significant changes in Europe’s security architecture for decades, reflecting a sweeping shift in public opinion in the Nordic region since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.
“This is a historic moment, which we must seize,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at a short ceremony in which the Swedish and Finnish ambassadors to the alliance handed over their application letters, each in a white folder embossed with their national flag.
“I warmly welcome requests by Finland and Sweden to join NATO. You are our closest partners, and your membership in NATO will increase our shared security,” Stoltenberg said. The alliance considers that the accession of Finland and Sweden would hugely strengthen it in the Baltic Sea.
Ratification of all 30 allied parliaments could take up to a year, diplomats say.
Turkey has surprised its allies in recent days by saying it had reservations about Finnish and Swedish membership. Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that he thought the issues could be resolved.
“We are determined to work through all issues and reach rapid conclusions,” Stoltenberg said, noting strong support from all other allies.
Russia, Ukraine peace talks stall amid mutual recriminations
Peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine have stagnated, officials said on Tuesday, with both sides trading blame and Moscow indicating a return to talks may be difficult.
Russia accused Ukraine of hardening its stance and the West for bolstering the government in Kyiv, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying that Washington, London and Brussels want to use Ukraine to their strategic advantage.
Lavrov said he believes no pace deal can be made if negotiators try to “transfer the dialogue” to focus on what the West had to say instead of the immediate situation in Ukraine. That rules out chances for progress in talks, he added.
“We always say that we are ready for negotiations … but we were given no other choice,” Lavrov said.
Ukraine and Russia have held intermittent peace talks since the end of February 2022, just days after Russia invaded its neighbour, but there has been little communication between them in recent weeks.
Also on Tuesday, Lavrov’s deputy Andrey Rudenko said Ukraine “has practically withdrawn from the negotiation process,” while Russian negotiator Leonid Slutsky, said talks are not being conducted in any format.
“The (U.S.) State Department should not try to create “conditions” through military assistance to Kyiv. Useless,” Slutsky said.
The United States is expected to approve a $40 billion package of military and economic aid for Ukraine this week, with overall supply of weapons and aid from the West significantly increasing in recent weeks.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak confirmed that talks are “on hold” as Russia is not willing to accept that it “will not achieve any goals” and that the war is no longer going according to the Kremlin’s rules.
“Russia does not demonstrate a key understanding of today’s processes in the world,” Podolyak said, according to Ukrainian media. “And its extremely negative role.”
President Vladimir Putin says Russian forces are on a special operation to demilitarise and “denazify” Ukraine. The West and Kyiv call that a false pretext to invade.
Thousands have been killed and millions displaced by the war. It has also left Russia in the grip of tough Western sanctions, and has raised fears of a wider confrontation between Russia and NATO.
“We have had not 10 years, but 20 years since the West began to prepare tools, including the use of NATO and Ukraine to contain Russia since the late 90s. All these years we insisted on negotiations – we have been ignored,” Lavrov said.
“Now we will solve problems depending on how we see them. I will always emphasize: we are ready to solve humanitarian issues,” Lavrov said.
Russia’s Lavrov says Finland, Sweden joining NATO makes ‘no big difference’
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that Finland and Sweden joining NATO would probably make “not much difference” as the two countries had long participated in the alliance’s military drills, Reuters reported.
“Finland and Sweden, as well as other neutral countries, have been participating in NATO military exercises for many years,” Lavrov said.
“NATO takes their territory into account when planning military advances to the East. So in this sense there is probably not much difference. Let’s see how their territory is used in practice in the North Atlantic alliance.”
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