President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that there was no threat to Russia if Sweden and Finland joined NATO, but warned that Moscow would respond if the US-led coalition strengthened the military infrastructure of the new Nordic members.
Putin, Russia’s supreme leader since 1999, has repeatedly cited NATO alliance’s post-Soviet rise eastward on Russia’s border as the cause of the conflict in Ukraine.
But Putin, who in recent months has slammed Russia’s nuclear sabotage in the West over Ukraine, has reacted unusually calmly to Finland and Sweden’s bid to join NATO, the biggest strategic consequence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine so far.
“In terms of expansion, Russia has no problem with these states – none. And so in that sense, there is no immediate threat from Russia expanding to include these countries (NATO),” Putin told Russian-led military leaders. Alliance of former Soviet states.
Putin, however, wrote his newly found peace on NATO with a warning.
“But the expansion of military infrastructure in this territory will certainly provoke our reaction,” Putin said.
“What that (reaction) will be – we’ll see what the threat is,” Putin told leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which includes Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
One of Russia’s most sensitive geopolitical concerns, the Kremlin chief’s remarkably clear response – to the expansion of post-Soviet NATO – has been met with some harsh language from his foreign ministry and senior allies.
Speaking to Putin, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the West should have no illusions that Moscow would only accept NATO’s Nordic expansion. Those comments were still being aired on state television.
One of Putin’s closest allies, former President Dmitry Medvedev, said last month that Russia could deploy nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles at the Russian Eclave in Kaliningrad if Finland and Sweden join NATO.
No problem NATO
While speaking at the Grand Kremlin, Putin delivered a brief speech that touched on NATO and reprimanded the United States for setting up a biological laboratory in the former Soviet Union.
Putin said Russia has evidence that the United States is trying to build biological weapons components in Ukraine, a claim Washington and Kyiv have denied.
In addition to NATO’s “endless expansion policy,” Putin said the alliance had come a long way from its Euro-Atlantic remittance – a trend he said Russia was following carefully.
Moscow says NATO threatens Russia and that Washington has repeatedly ignored the Kremlin’s concerns about the security of its borders to the west, the source of two devastating European attacks in 1812 and 1941.
Putin said a “special military operation” in Ukraine was necessary because the United States was using Ukraine to threaten Russia through NATO expansion and Moscow had to defend itself against the persecution of Russian-speaking people.
Putin said that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, assurances had been given that the alliance would not extend eastward to Russia, a promise which he said was false.
The United States and NATO argue that such assurances were explicitly given. Kyiv and its Western backers say Moscow has exaggerated its demands for the persecution of Russian-speakers on the pretext of an unprovoked war against a sovereign state.
The West says NATO – a 30-nation alliance with nuclear powers such as the former Warsaw Pact republics like Poland and Hungary, as well as the United States, Britain and France – is fully defensive.