Russia threatens to deploy nuclear weapons to the Baltics if Finland and Sweden join NATO

Russia threatens to deploy nuclear weapons to the Baltics if Finland and Sweden join NATO
Moscow, Russia 12.20.2016 Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev at the final meeting of the Presidium of the Council under the President of the Russian Federation (Shutterstock).

Former Russian President and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, now the deputy chairman of Russia's Security Council, warned on Thursday that Moscow will drastically increase its military presence in the Baltic region of Europe if Finland and Sweden are admitted to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Multiple news outlets have reported that Medvedev's threat includes the potential deployment of nuclear weapons along Russia's 800-mile-long border with Finland.

“If Sweden and Finland join NATO, the length of the land borders of the alliance with the Russian Federation will more than double. Naturally, these boundaries will have to be strengthened,” Medvedev wrote on the encrypted app Telegram, according to The Washington Post. “There can be no more talk of any nuclear-free status for the Baltic — the balance must be restored."

Medvedev's remarks mirror those made by Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, who last week said that “we’ll have to make our Western flank more sophisticated in terms of ensuring our security" if NATO's reach inches further East.

Discussions of joining the defensive alliance have escalated within Russia's Northwest neighbors in the weeks since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine on February 24th. Three days later, Putin put his atomic arsenal – the largest on planet Earth – on high alert.

“Senior officials of the leading Nato countries also allow aggressive statements against our country, therefore I order the minister of defense and the chief of the general staff [of the Russian armed forces] to transfer the deterrence forces of the Russian army to a special mode of combat duty,” Putin proclaimed in a televised address. “Western countries aren’t only taking unfriendly actions against our country in the economic sphere, but top officials from leading Nato members made aggressive statements regarding our country.”

To date, however, no increased activity in and around Russia's nuclear munitions storage facilities has been observed.

In any case, if Finland and Sweden are granted membership to NATO – which according to Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin could happen "within weeks" – Ukraine would be the only Eastern European country, besides Russian ally Belarus, standing between Russia and NATO member states.

"We have to be prepared for all kinds of actions from Russia,” Marin told reporters at a press conference in Stockholm, the Swedish capital, on Wednesday. “I won’t give any kind of timetable when we will make our decisions, but I think it will happen quite fast — within weeks, not within months.”

Admission would also guarantee security for Finland and Sweden under Article 5 of NATO's charter, which states that an attack on one is an attack on all.

Crucially, Finland and Sweden meet NATO's standards of “political, democratic, civilian control over the security institutions and the armed forces," Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said last week. “There are no other countries that are closer to NATO."

Stoltenberg noted that although he is “certain that the alliance will find ways to address concerns about the period between potential application and ratification, I think it’s not helpful if I start to speculate in the public exactly how we will do that. But I am confident that if they apply, we will sit down, and we will find a way to address that issue.”

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