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What Will The Neighbors Think?

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Swedish fighter jet and a Russian landing craft in the Baltic Sea. Swedish Defense Forces via Helsingin Sanomat.

As Russia threatens Ukraine and intervenes in Kazakhstan, its other neighbors are looking on. Russia’s words toward NATO have been accompanied by warnings to Sweden and Finland not to join NATO.

Russia is presented with a conundrum of its own making. It would like to have friendly or neutral neighbors, but, when they don’t toe that line, as particularly in the case of Ukraine, Russia argues it has no choice but to attack them. This does not encourage a friendly attitude in the neighbors.

Russia’s grab of Crimea and its attack on the Donbas alerted other neighbors to prepare for the worst, now amplified by the Russian military buildup around Ukraine and Russia’s demands on NATO and the United States. The neighbors must respond to Russia’s renewed demand for an explicit sphere of influence.

Sweden and Finland are particularly threatened, since they are not part of NATO and they can control the Baltic Sea entry to Russia’s military bases on the Gulf of Finland. Russia would want to maintain that access.

Drones were seen flying over Sweden’s nuclear reactors at Forsmark and Oskarshamn and Russian landing ships have been seen in the Baltic Sea. In response, Sweden is adding troops and equipment to its base on Gotland.

Before last week’s talks between Russia and the United States and NATO, Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde said “It should not be up to Russia if we could join or if we could not join NATO.” Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said in his New Year’s address to the nation

The ultimatums Russia gave to the U.S. and NATO in December concern Europe. They are in conflict with the European security order. Spheres of interest do not belong to the 2020s. The sovereign equality of all states is the basic principle that everyone should respect….The sovereignty of several Member States, also Sweden and Finland, has been challenged from outside the [European] Union. 

Finland has ordered 64 Lockheed F-35 fighter jets. Like Sweden, they are making preparations in response to the increased Russian naval activity in the Baltic Sea. Sweden and Finland have been cooperating on defense since Russia’s 2014 invasions of Ukraine.

Finland now clearly rejects the idea of “Finlandization,” referring to its position relative to the Soviet Union, in which it was allowed a measure of independence in return for never criticizing or acting against the Soviet Union. Although the word is sometimes offered as a means for Ukraine to resolve its difficulties with Russia, it’s doubtful that Ukraine sees it any more favorably than Finland does.

Much more about Sweden and Finland in the context of potential NATO membership here.

I’ll also re-up my piece at Duck of Minerva on a counterfactual in which NATO does not expand after the collapse of the Soviet Union. That piece is also relevant to discussions about Russia’s current actions, but I’ll leave that for another post.

Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner

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