Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev vowed that Russia will beef up its military forces along its western borders if Sweden and Finland join the NATO alliance. It would mean increasing the number of ground troops and air defense systems in the region along with deploying “substantial” naval forces in the Gulf of Finland.
The two Scandinavian nations, which have long resisted joining the Western alliance, acknowledged this week they are jointly considering applying in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the transformed security situation in the region. The move could be a severe embarrassment for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who pushed the Ukraine war in part to keep the country from pursuing its own NATO bid.
A longtime ally of Mr. Putin and now deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, Mr. Medvedev on Thursday noted the inclusion of Finland and Sweden would more than double NATO’s land border with Russia, and would clearly spark a reaction from the Kremlin.
“Naturally, it will be necessary to strengthen those borders,” he said, according to the state-owned Tass news agency.
Mr. Medvedev denied that Russia’s nearly two-month-old invasion of neighboring Ukraine triggered the shift by Sweden and Finland, which both have seen popular support for NATO surge since February.
“The attempts to drag them into the alliance were made before,” he said. “Secondly, which is the main thing, we do not have territorial disputes with these countries like with Ukraine. This is why the value of such membership is different for us.”
Mr. Medvedev, who has issued a series of incendiary comments since the fighting in Ukraine began, also threatened to expand Russia’s nuclear forces in the Baltics if the two countries were admitted to the alliance.
“If this is the case, there can no longer be talk about the Baltic’s non-nuclear status. The balance must be restored,” he warned, according to Tass.
The former Russian president said NATO seems eager to fast-track the membership applications for Sweden and Finland, both of which have formidable militaries and have long been cooperating with U.S. and European commanders while remaining formally outside of NATO.
“The U.S. is broadcasting its “Welcome” [sign] to the representatives of Northern Europe literally in every way possible: ‘Just humbly knock and we will let you in,’” Mr. Medvedev said. “And what does this mean? This means that Russia will have more official adversaries.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said last year the alliance would welcome a bid by Sweden or Finland to join NATO, and repeated last week the door was open despite Russian opposition.
“It is for Finland and Sweden to decide whether they would like to apply for membership or not and we will respect that decision,” Mr. Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels last week. “If they decide to apply, I expect that all allies will welcome them.”
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, meeting with her Swedish counterpart Wednesday, said Helsinki would decide on whether to apply for NATO within “weeks rather than months.”