Potential NATO Breakthrough Thanks to the “Initiatives” of Moscow

AP Photo / Olivier Hoslet

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Sergey Lavrov told at a press conference held on 14 January 2021 that the West had “broke loose“ and violated its sanity by turning to confrontation when it demanded the Russian troops massed on the Ukrainian border to be returned to their barracks.

“Promises not to expand NATO, not to move military infrastructure further east, not to deploy large military forces in the new member countries of the Alliance…” – the Minister listed what he considered to be a “bouquet” of North Atlantic Alliance promises that had been thrown in the dustbin against common sense.

It is also from the same place: “The attempts to artificially expand NATO to include Ukraine continue. Recently, there have been some rather interesting announcements from the Alliance, from the United States, that they would welcome the membership of the Scandinavian countries, which are not yet NATO members. This is an artificial attraction into a structure which, after the Cold War, became meaningless after liquidation of the Warsaw Treaty Organization. However, the attempts to artificially continue its existence still continue.”

Already after the press conference of the Minister of foreign Affairs, probably with Moscow’s success, when the military of the Collective Security Treaty Organization under his leadership, was briefly sent to Kazakhstan to ensure stability, at the request of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (his motives are a separate broad topic), Pyotr Tolstoy, Deputy Speaker of the Russian Duma, was reported to have said that when a group of countries that were formerly part of the Russian Empire joined Russia, the Baltic States and Finland would crawl out on their own (and presumably in the same place, as the Deputy Speaker did not specify where – A. S.), having realized the futility of their situation.

The Russian officials did their best of getting it right.

We have already written here about the statement of the Minister of Defense of Sweden Peter Hultqvist that attempts of Russia to carve out spheres of influence on the Old Continent are unacceptable to neutral European states, as are the attempts of the Kremlin to “outmaneuver” anyone from joining NATO.

According to the Minister, Moscow is challenging the international law by denying the right of other independent countries to sovereign policy and the ability to decide whether or not to join one or another international organization. In this connection, Peter Hultqvist pointed out that Sweden was not going to join the Alliance now or later, but that its decision would be entirely up to it.

Following signing of the Stockholm-Kiev Military Cooperation Treaty on 14 December, Peter Hultqvist invited Ukraine to take part in the Aurora-2023 multinational military exercise, together with the military officers from other 10 countries.

The President of Finland Saul Niinistö, in an interview with the state-owned TV channel Yle on 31 December, found it necessary to declare that evolving dynamics of the American-Russian relationship would not close the door to his country’s membership in the Alliance, and that the choice would be up to Finland alone.

The President recalled that in a telephone conversation with his Russian colleague Vladimir Putin in December, Vladimir Putin had indicated that the Finns respect their sovereignty and will in no way give up the possibility of applying for NATO membership if they consider it relevant.

In welcoming their compatriots on New Year’s Day, the President of Finland and Prime Minister Sanna Marin also saw fit to specifically mention the right of Finland to apply for membership of the North Atlantic Alliance at any time. Sanna Marin: “There cannot be two opinions on this issue. No one can blackmail us.”

The logical follow-up was the entry of three large landing ships of the Russian navy into the Baltic Sea, after which Sweden reinforced its defence of the island of Gotland and its capital. Since 14 January, armored vehicles have been patrolling the harbor of Visby and there is talk of military troops for reinforcement to the island.

As Peter Hultqvist points out, the military is taking measures to ensure integrity of Sweden. Especially when unidentified drones have been spotted over the Oskarshamn, Forsmark and Barsebäck nuclear power plants.

Director of Swedish Military Intelligence and security Lena Hallin summarised that the security situation in Sweden is far from normal at the moment. Incidentally, the internet cable (one of two) linking NATO member Norway to its archipelago of Spitsbergen went out of order on the same day.

The ultimatum demands of the Kremlin for security of NATO, its categorical insistence that the Alliance “return” to its 1997 borders and no longer accept new members (primarily Ukraine and Georgia), as well as the continued build-up of Russian troops close to the Ukrainian border, are all being met with an apparent backlash by the otherwise restrained Nordic and Baltic countries..

The Ministers of Defence of Denmark, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Estonia held a joint meeting on 17 December to declare that the West must not under any circumstances accept demands of Moscow not to expand eastwards and not to deploy troops in the member states of the Alliance at a time when Moscow itself poses the greatest threat to Europe in the style of the Cold War.

On 20 December, the Ministers of Defence of Estonia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and the Netherlands met to discuss the same topic.

Finland, which was “Finlandised” after the World War II and served as a bridge between East and West, and which was emphatically neutral even after the collapse of the USSR, has maintained relatively close ties with Russia, for example by leading the way in issuing Schengen visas to Russians.

But at the end of 2021, “for some reason”, it started to announce that it will equip itself with 64 American F-35A fighter jets. It is unlikely that the practical Finns would go for a cheap (to put it mildly) deal if they did not appreciate the growing threats from their eastern neighbour at a time when diplomatic statements from its diplomats are becoming less diplomatic.

Sent to Geneva to negotiate security guarantees with the Americans, Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Ryabkov said on 9 January: “NATO needs to pick up its rags and go back to the borders of 1997”.

Except for the language – after that year, 14 countries joined the North Atlantic Alliance: Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic – in 1999; Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – in 2004; Albania and Croatia – in 2099; Montenegro – in 2017 and Northern Macedonia – in 2020.

An Alliance of 30 countries with an “open door” policy, and here is the categorical imperative of the diplomacy of Moscow (up to and including the demand for written assurances and “imminent retaliation” in the absence of assurances), and the hussar-like hiss of the Alliance.

This cannot but be a cause for concern in the Baltic countries, which still remember the history of the half-century occupation particularly well, where the Alliance still has no offensive forces, let alone nuclear weapons, but only a battalion (400 troops), rather as an argument for the pasichological deterrence of Moscow. It is not even possible to compare it with what Russia ‘has’, for example, in Kaliningrad.

Eastern Balts are under no illusions in this respect. The President of Estonia Alar Karis told about meaningfulness of considering the Russian proposals to NATO: “It is a long list of commands, not wishes”. According to the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia Andrejs Viļumsons, the logic of Russia is incomprehensible because it has not been threatened in decades. On the contrary, neighbours of Russia Georgia and Ukraine, whose territorial integrity has been violated, are living under threat.

Returning to the pragmatic Scandinavians, the Swedish army is currently the strongest in the north of Europe outside NATO, but, according to its Minister of Defence, the situation is forcing the Swedes to be more cooperative with the Alliance, which could eventually lead to an abandonment of the traditional Swedish neutrality.

From the New Year greeting of the President of Sweden: ‘While (Russia’s – A.S.) demands are being made to the United States and NATO, Europe can’t just listen. The sovereignty of several EU Member States, including Sweden and Finland, has been called into question outside the Community. This makes the EU a stakeholder, the Community can no longer afford to play the role of technical coordinator of sanctions (certainly against Russia – A.S.).”

Although the Minister of Defence of Finland Antti Kaikkonen has reiterated in the context of current affairs that his country is not considering NATO membership right now, the number of Finns who support this is rising and is now the highest it has been in over a decade (as it was in 2016), according to a poll conducted last year by the Finnish Business and Policy Forum (EVA).

While the percentage of favourability is only 26 points (40% against, 33% undecided), it has increased compared to the data of 2020. EEA experts attribute this to a less favourable assessment of Russia by Finns.

And finally, in the current circumstances, it is completely irrelevant to predict what might happen in six months’ time. In any case, as a researcher at the Finnish Institute of Foreign Policy Jyri Lavikaine, points out, if his country joins NATO, the main reason will be actions of Moscow, such as open aggression against Ukraine.

Especially when/if technically the Finnish- as well as the Swedish – armed forces are already compliant with NATO standards, there are simply no ideological barriers, and the Finns consider themselves to be part of Western civilisation.

By the way, the decision of Sweden to join would significantly accelerate changes in the Finnish public opinion in favour of the Alliance – let’s say because of the company.

To sum up. The ultimatums of the Kremlin, at least for now, seem to be working against Moscow, with even Sweden and Finland, which have been emphatically neutral for decades, now considering NATO membership in full voice. Another very real consequence of Moscow’s threats is a significant strengthening of the defence capabilities of the Baltic States.

There is an expert thesis that no one else has contributed as significantly to the military consolidation of the West as the President of Russia. This is true because the master of the Kremlin, who may be driven by neo-imperial ambitions, has come to believe that he can dictate his conditions to other countries.

Arūnas Spraunius

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Autorius: Voras Online