Russia says a nuclear-free Baltic region would no longer possible if Finland and Sweden join NATO, alluding to additional nuclear deployments in Europe.
“There can be no more talk of any nuclear-free status for the Baltic – the balance must be restored,” Dmitry Medvedev, former president and deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, wrote on his official Telegram channel on Thursday.
The comments come a day after Finland and Sweden said their decision on whether to apply for NATO membership would come within a matter of weeks. The countries’ leaders said their security assessments had dramatically changed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
If Finland and Sweden did join NATO, this would give Moscow “more officially registered opponents,” Medvedev added. He claimed that NATO was planning to admit the two Nordic states with “minimal bureaucratic procedures.”
Russia’s response should be taken with “no emotion, with a cold head,” he added.
The Baltics, which includes the north-eastern European countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, are members of the EU and NATO. Finland and Sweden are members of the EU, but not NATO, and the latter shares a 830-mile border with Russia.
Lithuania, which borders the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, brushed off Medvedev’s comments on Thursday.
It’s “nothing new,” Lithuanian Defence Minister Arvydas Anusauskas said, adding that Russia already has nuclear weapons in the Baltic region.
“The current Russian threats look quite strange, when we know that, even without the present security situation, they keep the weapon 100 km from Lithuania’s border,” the minister was quoted by Lithuania’s BNS wire as saying.
“Nuclear weapons have always been kept in Kaliningrad … the international community, the countries in the region, are perfectly aware of this … They use it as a threat,” he added.
Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered a U-turn in Finnish public opinion on joining the 30-member military alliance, which it has refrained from joining since World War II in a bid to maintain neutrality. Moscow has in the past warned of severe consequences and instability in the Nordics if Finland were to join.
If Finland joined the alliance, Sweden would likely follow suit. Finland and Sweden, as well as Ukraine, are already “Enhanced Opportunity Partners” of NATO, the closest form of partnership with the alliance, and partake in military exercises with NATO states.