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Vladimir Putin has issued fresh warnings that Russia would respond in kind if Nato set up military infrastructure in Finland and Sweden after they joined the US-led alliance.
Putin was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying he could not rule out that tensions would emerge in Moscow’s relations with Helsinki and Stockholm over their joining Nato.
“We don’t have problems with Sweden and Finland like we do with Ukraine,” the Russian president told a news conference in the Turkmenistan capital of Ashgabat. “We don’t have territorial differences.”
“If Finland and Sweden wish to, they can join. That’s up to them. They can join whatever they want.”
However, he warned “if military contingents and military infrastructure were deployed there, we would be obliged to respond symmetrically and raise the same threats for those territories where threats have arisen for us”.
Russia has repeatedly warned Finland and Sweden against joining Nato, saying the “serious military and political consequences” of such a move would oblige it to “restore military balance” by strengthening its defences in the Baltic Sea region, including by deploying nuclear weapons.
Russian officials earlier reacted angrily to Nato’s offer of membership to Finland and Sweden, calling it a “destabilising” effort that will increase tensions in the region.
“We condemn the irresponsible course of the North Atlantic Alliance that is ruining the European architecture, or what’s left of it,” Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters on Wednesday.
“I have a great deal of doubt as to whether the upcoming period will be calm for our north European neighbours,” he added.
The decision followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has prompted Russian neighbours to appeal to Nato for additional security guarantees. Some have said that Russia will target countries in eastern and northern Europe that have condemned the war and joined international aid and sanctions efforts.
A communique published at a Nato summit in Madrid said that the “accession of Finland and Sweden will make them (the allies) safer, Nato stronger and the Euro-Atlantic area more secure”.
But in Russia, the news was met coolly.
Konstantin Kosachev, a member of Russia’s Federation Council, said that the accession of Finland and Sweden into Nato would “certainly mean a worsening of relations between these two countries and Russia”.
He noted that Finland and Russia share a long land border, while Russia and Sweden have shared interests in the Baltic and Barents Sea areas.
“All of this would definitely change for the worse, and definitely not at Russia’s initiative,” he said. “This can only be regretted.”
The accession of the two countries into Nato would mean the end of a decades-long status quo that saw Finland, in particular, maintain a degree of neutrality during the cold war in order to avoid a direct confrontation with the Soviet Union.
In the week before the decision, Russia’s foreign ministry announced that it would cut ties with a Finnish NGO and banned two Swedish organisations, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and the Swedish Institute. In a statement, the ministry accused the organisations of “focusing on efforts to destabilise Russian society”.
Tensions have risen between Russia and countries in the Baltic region, which are members of Nato, raising concerns of a direct clash between Moscow and members of the security alliance.
Vladimir Dzhabarov, another senior lawmaker, told a Russian radio station on Wednesday that a blockade of Russia’s Kaliningrad region could lead to an “armed conflict” with Lithuania.
“If we feel that this security is being violated and it threatens us with the loss of our territory, of course, we will take extreme measures and nothing will stop us,” he said.
Russian officials have disregarded arguments that they are to blame for the Nato enlargement prompted by the invasion, as well as Nato’s decision to “deploy additional robust in-place combat-ready forces on our eastern flank”.
“In the end, [Finland and Sweden] will delegate some of their foreign political and defence sovereignty to Washington and other so-called senior Nato partners,” said Ryabkov, calling it “cover” for the alliance’s “aggressive intentions” toward Russia.
“A new strategic concept will be adopted, and Russia will be designated as a threat to the alliance. This has nothing to do with real life; it’s the alliance that poses a threat to us.”