For decades, Russian tyrants have used the same threat to intimidate sovereign countries into assuaging the Kremlin’s hegemonic insecurity.
The most recent example is playing out in Ukraine — first threats, then a show of force, followed by an invasion, expecting a quick victory.
Now, two new targets of Moscow’s clumsy threats are poised to stiff-arm its bullying, which could lead to Europe’s next shooting war.
Finland and Sweden, longtime neutral nations, are on the cusp of joining NATO. Their hesitancy to join the 30-member security alliance will soon crumble in the face of Moscow’s rank aggression toward neutral Ukraine, and they will quickly pull the alliance’s umbrella firmly over themselves.
Of course, Kremlin authorities have already started making threats should Finland and Sweden move to align with NATO.
Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s former president and prime minister, warned that if Finland and Sweden join NATO, there would be no “nuclear-free status for the Baltic” — translation: The possibility of nuclear war grows. Further, Medvedev promised their membership would result in more Russian ground forces, air defense systems and “significant naval forces” in the Gulf of Finland.
Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas noted that Moscow has already deployed nuclear weapons to its Western European enclave, Kaliningrad. However, the threat of Moscow ramping up its military presence in the Baltic region concerns everyone given the ongoing hostilities in Ukraine.
The tyrant’s threats make one wonder whether the Kremlin really believes Russia can take on NATO and survive. After all, NATO’s collective might significantly overshadow Russia’s, and the regime’s nuclear arsenal is matched or bettered by the combined U.S., British, and French atomic capabilities.
These threats and the growing carnage in Ukraine are being carefully assessed by Finland and Sweden and a NATO decision is forthcoming. Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said her country’s membership decision is coming within “weeks, not within months.”
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Sweden is expected to accelerate its decision as well. Last week, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said “the security landscape has completely changed” after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and “given this situation we have to really think through what is best for Sweden and our security and our peace in this new situation.”
Bluster, which might be an appropriate description of the Russians’ threats against Finland and Sweden, is nothing new for Moscow. Certainly, those countries need only recall how similar scenarios have previously played out.
In 1939, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin threatened Finland by offering a no-option land trade. Stalin demanded Helsinki give up the Gulf of Finland islands and the Karelian Isthmus in exchange for Soviet territory along their common northern border. The Finns rejected the offer and the Soviets invaded while the West sat on its hands. Despite the gallant resistance by Finnish fighters, the massive Soviet army prevailed after a three-month fight, suffering 167,976 casualties.
Moscow used the same strategy on behalf of its ally North Korea. In 1950, Stalin backed North Korea’s unprovoked assault on South Korea. However, unlike in the Finnish situation, the U.S. formed an international coalition that backed South Korea. Later, the newly established People’s Republic of China came to the rescue, with millions of troops driving the U.S.-led coalition to a stalemate along the 38th parallel, where that frozen war remains to this day.
In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed. Former Warsaw Pact countries scrambled to embrace freedom, which for many meant European Union and NATO membership. However, the rise of Vladimir Putin resulted in the dusting off of the strategic template used by his predecessor, Stalin.
In 2009, Putin threatened and then invaded Georgia to seize two provinces, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which it still occupies. Then again, in 2014, on the cusp of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russian forces invaded Crimea and eastern Ukraine to annex the Ukrainian peninsula.
Fast forward to the fall of 2021. Putin claimed that Kyiv’s aim to join NATO infringed on Russia’s security and that the Ukrainian government was run by “little Nazis.” Putin also alleged the Kyiv government had perpetrated genocide and that it was a pawn of the West. Thus, Putin positioned himself as Ukraine’s savior intent on rescuing the former Soviet state by piling his forces along Ukraine’s border. When Kyiv failed to acquiesce to Moscow’s demands, it invaded.
That brings us back to the situation facing Finland and Sweden.
It is obvious the Finns are ready to join NATO. According to an April 12 poll, 84 percent of Finns consider Russia a “significant military threat” to Finland. Another poll from March reflected the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, finding a record 60 percent of Finns now favor joining NATO, compared to 26 percent in October 2021.
Most Swedes also favor joining NATO. A March poll found that 51 percent of Swedes now favor NATO membership, up from 42 percent in January. Opposition fell to 27 percent from 37 percent in the same period.
Both countries already have a close relationship with NATO. In 1994, Finland and Sweden joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, which builds security relationships with non-member Euro-Atlantic countries. Both nations previously contributed to the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, the Kosovo Force and the NATO mission to Iraq.
Should Finland and Sweden become NATO members, the realignment of the world will advance. This emergent juxtaposition of countries suggests a new cold war marked by escalating tensions such as in Ukraine, pitting authoritarian regimes led by Russia and China against democratic states led by the U.S. and much of Western Europe.
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