Lake NATO: Russia’s reactions in words and actions

04.03.2024

On Monday, February 26, Hungary’s parliament gave its approval for Sweden’s NATO accession, marking a historic shift for the Nordic country that maintained its neutrality through two world wars and the Cold War. 

How did Russia respond to the assertion that the Baltic Sea had effectively become a NATO inner sea? 

In May 2022, Putin stated 

“As for the expansion of NATO, including through new members of the alliance—Finland, Sweden — Russia wants to inform you that it has no problems with these states. Therefore, in this sense, expansion on account of these countries does not pose a direct threat to Russia.”

But Putin warned there would be consequences if the military alliance moved weapons into the territory of the two countries. 

How did Russia respond to the NATO accession of Finland…

On June 26, President Putin asserted that Moscow would retaliate in a “symmetrical” manner to any deployments, while the foreign ministry accused NATO of attempting to destabilize Russian society.

In a bold statement on April 4, 2023, Moscow declared Finland’s decision to join the NATO military alliance as a perilous historical misstep with far-reaching consequences. The Russian government warned that this move would not only undermine security in the broader region but also elevate the likelihood of conflicts, compelling Moscow to consider countermeasures. Russia’s Defence Minister, Sergei Shoigu, minced no words in addressing the potential consequences of Finland’s NATO accession. In a meeting with the country’s military leadership, Shoigu emphasized that such a move “creates the risks of a significant expansion of conflict.” 

On November 18, Finland closed four border checkpoints along its southeastern border with Russia, citing a sudden surge in asylum seekers, mainly from Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and Syria. The Finnish Border Guard reported around 300 migrants arriving from Russia since September 2023, with a notable spike between November 7 and 14. Finnish authorities suspect a hybrid warfare tactic orchestrated by Russia. The Finnish Prime Minister accuses Russian border guards of escorting migrants to the Finnish border, a claim denied by the Kremlin. This situation echoes tactics used by Russia and Belarus in 2021 to destabilize NATO by assisting migrants. The Institute for the Study of War notes parallels, as Belarus aided Middle Eastern migrants entering Poland, leading to Kremlin accusations of NATO aggression. Finland’s allegations against Russia suggest a familiar pattern. The Finnish border with Russia remains closed to this day. 

A recent Finnish research report suggests that Russia may strengthen its forces near Finland and Sweden in response to their potential NATO accession. However, the author predicts that the increase won’t reach Cold War levels. The assessment takes into account Russia’s losses in Ukraine and the slow process of building new forces, indicating that a substantial military buildup in Finland’s vicinity is unlikely before the 2030s.

…and Sweden

On Wednesday, Feb 28, 2024, Russia announced its intention to implement undisclosed military-technical countermeasures in response to Sweden’s potential NATO membership. Moscow framed the prospective alliance as an aggressive move and deemed it a mistake.

“We will closely monitor what Sweden will do in the aggressive military bloc, how it will realize its membership in practice … based on this, we will build our response with retaliatory steps of a military-technical and other nature,” Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov declared that Russia would deploy more weapons in various regions to counter the perceived threat from Sweden and Finland joining NATO. This emphasizes the Kremlin’s willingness to strengthen its military presence as NATO’s borders extend.

In response to Russia’s comments, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson expressed nonchalance, stating that the remarks were unsurprising and indicated that his country remained undeterred.

On February 26, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed two decrees officially re-establishing the Moscow and Leningrad Military Districts, marking a significant overhaul of the Russian military. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) notes that this restructuring serves a dual purpose: consolidating control over Russian operations in Ukraine and preparing for a potential large-scale conventional war against NATO in the future. The re-established Leningrad Military District will now align with NATO’s northeastern border, while the Moscow Military District will be positioned along the northeastern border of Ukraine and Poland. This strategic positioning enables Russia to simultaneously posture against NATO and enhance command and control for war in Ukraine. 

According to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), Putin asserted the need to establish the Leningrad Military District following Finland’s NATO accession in 2023. This underscores the Kremlin’s explicit intention to utilize the LMD for strategic posturing against NATO.

In 2000, Putin did not rule out the possibility of Russia itself joining NATO.

Screenshots are from sources used in the story.