Russia: NATO buildup could yield unintended consequences

REUTERS

Russia is worried about increased activity of NATO forces in the Arctic and sees risks of “unintended incidents” in the region, said Russia’s ambassador-at-large, Nikolai Korchunov, according to the Russian state-controlled news agency TASS.

In March 2022, Finland and Sweden, which are  considering joining the NATO alliance, conducted combined NATO military drills. The exercise was long planned, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 added intensity to the war game. Moscow describes its actions in Ukraine as a “special military operation.”

“The recent increase in NATO’s activity in the Arctic is a cause for concern. Another large-scale military exercise of the alliance was recently held in northern Norway. In our view, this does not contribute to the security of the region,” Korchunov said. Such activity, he added, raises the risk of  “unintended incidents,” which he said could damage the Arctic ecosystem.

In March, gunfire echoed around the Norwegian fjords as a row of Swedish and Finnish Soldiers, positioned prone behind banks of snow, trained rifles and missile launchers on nearby hills ready for an enemy attack.

The drill was the first time that forces from Finland and Sweden have formed a combined brigade in a scheduled NATO exercise in Arctic Norway known as Cold Response. “We would be rather naive not to recognize that there is a threat,” Swedish Army Maj. Stefan Nordstrom told Reuters. “The security situation in the whole of Europe has changed and we have to accept that, and we have to adapt.” (Pictured: From left, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde hold a joint news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.)

That sense of threat means Russian President Vladimir Putin, who embarked on what he calls a special operation in Ukraine partly to counter the expansion of the NATO alliance, may soon have a new NATO neighbor.

Finland has a 1,300-kilometer border with Russia. In a March 28, 2022, telephone call, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto asked NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg for details on principles and steps for accepting new members. Finland’s leaders have discussed possible membership with almost all 30 NATO members.

Sweden – home of the founder of the Nobel Peace Prize and a country that has not fought in a war since 1814 – is more hesitant. But a recent opinion poll for a major Swedish TV station found that 59% of Swedes wanted to join NATO if Finland does.

IMAGE CREDIT: AFP/GETTY IMAGES