Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that while Moscow opposes NATO expansion, Finland and Sweden’s plans to join the alliance do not pose a “direct threat” to Russia since it has no problems with the two Nordic countries.
“As far as expansion goes, including new members Finland and Sweden, Russia has no problems with these states — none. And so in this sense, there is no immediate threat to Russia from an expansion to include these countries,” Putin said at a summit of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
Other Russian officials have said Sweden and Finland joining NATO was a different situation than Ukraine’s aspirations to join the Western military alliance. “We don’t have territorial disputes with those countries like we do with Ukraine,” Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president who serves as the deputy of Russia’s Security Council, said in April. “For that reason, the price of their membership for us is different,” he added.
Putin said that despite having no problems with Finland and Sweden, the expansion of NATO military infrastructure would be met with a Russian response. “But the expansion of military infrastructure into this territory would certainly provoke our response,” he said. “What that [response] will be – we will see what threats are created for us.”
Finland shares an over 800-mile border with Russia, meaning Helsinki’s admission into NATO would more than double NATO territory on Russia’s border. Medvedev had said Russia would have to deploy more forces near its border with Finland and in the Gulf of Finland, the easternmost part of the Baltic Sea, where the Russian port city of Saint Petersburg is located.
Medvedev also hinted at potential nuclear deployments in the region. “It will no longer be possible to talk about any nuclear-free status of the Baltic – the balance must be restored,” he said.
Both Finland and Sweden have officially announced their intention to apply to join the alliance, and many NATO members are looking to fast-track the application process, although Turkey has expressed opposition to the plan. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would block the Nordic countries from joining the alliance over their alleged support for the Kurdish PKK and an arms embargo they imposed on Ankara.