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Updated March 3rd, 2022 at 13:40 IST

Why is Russia threatening Sweden and Finland to not join NATO?

Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova warned categorically Finland and Sweden, the two EU nations, against attempting to join NATO

Zaini Majeed
Russia
IMAGE: AP | Image:self
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Russia’s defiant leader Vladimir Putin has threatened “serious military consequences” against Finland and Sweden if they join NATO, one that "history will remember", cautioning other countries of the world against making any attempts to interfere. The warnings came in the aftermath of Russia’s powerful forces launching fierce armed offensives, and bombardment of civilian infrastructure in Kyiv, for making a proposal of joining the NATO alliance earlier as the tense multifront negotiations faltered. 

Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, though, categorically warned Finland and Sweden, the two EU nations, against attempting to join NATO as the prospects of joining the alliance became a key reason for Moscow to wage a war inside Ukraine. A statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry voiced concerns never heard before, efforts by the United States and Alliance to “drag” Finland and Sweden into NATO—a statement that prompted instant threats and retaliatory measures warnings from the Russian regime.

“We’ve heard this before,” noted the Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto during an interview with the Finnish public broadcaster YLE, assertively brushing off the Russian leader’s threats against Finland. 

“Should Finland be NATO’s external border, it rather means that Russia would ‘most certainly’ take that into account in its own defense planning and strategies. I don’t see anything new as such in Russian side’s threatening statements,” Haavisto said, referring to  Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova’s speech.

The latter meanwhile reminded that all members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe had confirmed their adherence to this principle—bringing up a “neutrality” issue in a first since the Russia Ukraine war unleashed. 

But what is it with the 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) land border of Finland with Russia that is rattling Moscow to announce the “ grave countersteps” should two EU nations Finland and Sweden join NATO? The issue has been a concern between the three governments since the Cold War. Russia’s Putin, on one other occasion in 2016, had addressed the issue with a similar hardened tone, and that during his Finland visit inside their own territory. 

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto at Putin's summer residence in the town of Naantali. It was Putin’s first trip to a European Union country since the British voted to leave the bloc. Credit: AP

After Russia renewed its warnings, as the war escalated with Ukraine, Sweden, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson appeared at a news conference alongside her military commander Micael Byden to address Russia. “I want to be extremely clear,” she asserted, “It is Sweden that itself and independently decides on our security policy line.” Helsinki and Stockholm have also substantially ramped up their bilateral defence cooperation in the face of Russian aggression.

Russia recently dispatched written letters to both Finland and Sweden, demanding security guarantees, as it stated that the two NATO allied nations must “comply with commitments not to strengthen their security at the expense of the security of others.” 

Finland, Sweden’s neutrality buffer zone since Cold war 'risks shattering' 

Finnish-Soviet foreign arrangements date back to the Cold War, as at the time, Finland had accepted Soviet’s limitations on its ‘sovereignty’ in the areas of foreign and security policy and had agreed to uphold the neutrality of statehood. Finland and Sweden’s military non-alignment serve the Soviet’s regional security interests.

In 2004, Finland tabled the White Paper on Security and Defence policy that outlined Finnish NATO membership would only be an instrument to broker ‘cooperation’ between Russia and the “West”. And President Putin, in the post-Cold War era relied on the risk-averse strain of Finland’s current policy-line. Both Finland and Sweden have, for over decades, adhered to the status of a neutral buffer zone concerning the instability in the strategic balance of security in Northern Europe and the entire transatlantic region. The two EU nations have contributed to the model of ‘Ukrainian neutrality’. 

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, center, participates in a media conference with Finland's Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, left, and Sweden's Foreign Minister Ann Linde, right, at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Credit: AP

Although, as that geopolitical landscape makes a paradigm shift with Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, Putin intends to achieve the “Finlandization” of Kyiv, or rather apply the “Finnish model,” in reference to the EU nation’s policy of neutrality during the Cold War. France’s President Emmanuel Macron ahead of the diplomatic talks with Moscow suggested that Finlandization might be “one of the models on the table” to be negotiated with President Vladimir Putin. A de facto neutral status of Ukraine, on principles of Finnish model “could take away Putin’s perception of being “encircled by NATO” New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman suggested. 

NATO, however, asserts a differing stance on Ukraine being a neutrality buffer zone like that of Finland and Sweden’s Cold War policies.

“Everyone, including Putin, knows that Ukraine will not become a NATO member in the foreseeable and unforeseeable future,” explains former NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

“It’s already a buffer country. It’s something you’ll never hear NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg say; his position won’t allow it.”

Belgium Air Force F-16 fighter jet participate in NATO's Baltic Air Policing Mission operate in Lithuanian airspace. Credit: AP

In the post-Cold War era, Russian President Vladimir Putin fears that the Finnish-Soviet relationship during the Cold War may be shattering, and the two EU nations that share the border with Moscow may no longer shut out the Western military alliances or NATO cooperation, toppling the Finnish model” that kept the hierarchical relationship between Soviet, Sweden, and Finland relatively stable. 

In the official Soviet-Finnish communiqués, this Soviet-Finnish-Swedish arrangement has been described as the “positive example of the fruitful nature of peaceful coexistence between countries belonging to different social systems”. Finnish neutrality was guaranteed by the 1947 Paris Peace Treaties that mention the EU nation could not be a member of NATO. But as the Ukrainians desire integration with NATO and the West, soon Finland and Sweden might spin the table, posing a serious challenge to Russian security. 

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Published March 3rd, 2022 at 13:40 IST

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