Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Finland’s decision to apply for NATO membership is ‘definitely’ a threat to Russia and issued a chilling warning that the move would be met with ‘retaliatory steps’.
Finland’s president and prime minister said on Thursday their country must apply to join the military alliance ‘without delay’ in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Sweden, which has close historic and military ties with its Nordic neighbour, is expected to announce it too will apply for membership within days.
Moscow has repeatedly warned of ‘serious consequences’ if the two countries join NATO, saying it would have to bolster its forces in the Baltic Sea, and raised the possibility of deploying nuclear weapons in the area.
Russia spokesman Dmitry Peskov was asked during a conference call with reporters whether the steps taken by Finland to join presented a threat to Russia.
He said: ‘Definitely. NATO expansion does not make our continent more stable and secure.
‘This cannot fail to arouse our regret and is a reason for corresponding symmetrical responses on our side.’
Russia’s foreign ministry later issued a statement saying: ‘Finland joining NATO is a radical change in the country’s foreign policy.
‘Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps, both of a military-technical and other nature, in order to stop threats to its national security arising.’
It comes after one of Putin’s closest advisers warned Western leaders to stop supplying arms to Ukraine.
Former president Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s deputy on the powerful national security council, said their increasing military support could lead to a confrontation between Russia and NATO.
He added in a Telegram post: ‘Such a conflict always has the risk of turning into a full-fledged nuclear war. This will be a disastrous scenario for everyone.’
Putin has cited potential NATO expansion as one of the main reasons behind his ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine.
Ukraine has long sought membership, although it has lately offered to accept some form of neutral status as part of peace talks.
NATO describes itself as a defensive alliance, built around a treaty declaring that an attack on one member is an attack on all, which effectively grants US allies the protection of American superpower might, including its nuclear arsenal.
Moscow regards that as a threat to its influence in neighbouring countries.
But Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine has caused a shift in public opinion in the Nordic region, with political parties that had backed neutrality for generations now coming to embrace the view that Russia is a menace.
When asked whether the move to apply for NATO membership would provoke Putin, President Sauli Niinisto said: ‘My response would be that he caused this. Look at the mirror.’
Russia’s ambassador to the EU has said there will be a ‘military and technical’ response to Finland joining NATO. Vladimir Chizhov said the country would become a ‘NATO backwater’ – whatever that means – if it did decide to join the military alliance.
If one country in the organisation is attacked, all other members are committed to joining its defence.
In an interview with Sky News Chizhov said he is ‘deeply disappointed and saddened’ by Finland’s application to join NATO.
He said the country has been ‘pushing above its weight, having become in the last few decades a major power in promoting European security architecture’.
If it did join, it said it would have to bolster its forces in the Baltic Sea, raising the possibility of deploying nuclear weapons in the area.
Finland’s president and prime minister said today their country must apply to join the alliance ‘without delay’ in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Yesterday Boris Johnson said the UK ‘will not hesitate’ to act after signing a historic agreement with Sweden to defend against any threat from Putin.
He then travelled to Finland and pledged the same level of support should the nation come under attack.
Finnish president Sauli Niinisto, said Moscow only had itself to blame for his country’s decision to join NATO.
The Finnish head of state said Moscow could only blame itself should his nation of 5.5 million become a NATO member.
He said: ‘You caused this. Look at the mirror. So in my thinking, this is quite simple, actually.
‘We increase our security and we do not take it away from anybody. It is not a zero-sum game.’
Meanwhile, Sanna Marin, Finland’s prime minister, insisted that it was “very unlikely” her country would join NATO during her time in office. Less than three months and one invasion later, Finland is hurtling towards membership. On April 2nd Ms Marin said that the country would have to reach a decision “this spring”. As she explained, “Russia is not the neighbour we thought it was.”
Finland, after two grinding wars with the Soviet Union, and unlike most of eastern Europe, kept its independence and democracy through the cold war. The price of doing so was neutrality. Finland bought arms from both East and West, but stayed out of alliances. That arrangement, and the way in which Soviet pressure distorted Finland’s domestic politics, became known by the pejorative term Finlandisation. When the USSR was dissolved, Finland, along with Sweden, took the leap of joining the European Union, binding it closer to other European countries. And after Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014, both countries intensified joint exercises and other forms of co-operation with NATO.