'Grave mistake': Russia issues warning as Sweden, Finland move toward NATO

·3 min read

LONDON — Russia has reiterated its warning to Finland and Sweden over joining NATO after the neighboring Nordic countries confirmed their intentions to join the military alliance.

According to Russian state news agency Tass, the Kremlin’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said that Sweden and Finland would be making a “grave mistake” in joining the 30-member organization. “This will be another gross mistake with far-reaching consequences,” he told reporters. “The fact that the security of Sweden, like that of Finland for that matter, will not be strengthened as a result of this decision is completely obvious to us.”

Ryabkov added: “It is a pity that common sense is being sacrificed to some phantom ideas about what should be done in the current situation.”

Sergey Ryabkov sits in front of a half dozen microphones and two water bottles in front of a Russian flag..
Sergey Ryabkov, Russia's deputy foreign minister, at a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, on Jan. 10. (Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Both Nordic countries embraced neutrality for decades during the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West. But Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine rattled its unaligned neighbors and changed their strategic calculus.

Finland shares a large, 800-mile border with Russia, and both Finland and Sweden control large coastlines in the Baltic Sea. Their membership would cause the Baltic to become dominated by NATO countries, which include Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany and Poland. Russia has several key ports in the region, including Kaliningrad and Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg.

Despite Russian warnings, Finland and Sweden are barreling toward formal NATO membership, which requires the full alliance to defend any member attacked by another country. Their Scandinavian neighbors in Norway and Denmark are already NATO members.

On Sunday, the Finnish government said it would submit an application, with President Sauli Niinistö proclaiming that “a new era is opening.”

“A protected Finland is being born as part of a stable, strong and responsible Nordic region,” he said at a press conference. “We gain security, and we also share it. It’s good to keep in mind that security isn’t a zero-sum game.”

Speaking to CNN later that day, Niinistö told Dana Bash that he had called Russian President Vladimir Putin to tell him about Finland’s NATO ambitions. Niinistö said Putin told him that it was a mistake and that Russia was not “threatening” Finland. “The discussion was very ... calm and cool,” Niinistö said.

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said Sunday that she hoped her parliament would confirm the decision “in the coming days.” Marin told lawmakers on Monday that the country’s “security environment has fundamentally changed.”

Sanna Marin and Sauli Niinistö stand at podiums with microphones.
Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin and President Sauli Niinistö at a news conference in Helsinki on Sunday. (Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva/via Reuters)

NATO has an open-door policy to new members, assuming certain requirements (like democratic institutions) are met and all existing members consent to the expansion.

After meeting with Niinistö in Helsinki, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Congress would seek to ratify Finland’s application before going on vacation in August. “Certainly we hope to achieve it before the August recess when Congress typically goes out of session,” the Republican said on Monday.

On Monday, Sweden similarly announced its plans to join the Western military alliance. Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson acknowledged Putin’s threats but said that any retaliation would be “up to Russia and President Putin.” The Swedish leader also said that her country could face the possibility of cyberattacks or “hybrid attacks” as a result of the decision.