NATO expansion: Baerbock against Medvedev’s threats

NATO enlargement
Baerbock against Medvedev’s threats

Finland and Sweden are considering joining NATO. Russia responds to threats. But Foreign Minister Baerbock doesn’t care. The two Scandinavian countries are welcome in the defense alliance, she said. Lithuania even describes these threats as an “empty blow”.

Against the background of Russian threats in the event of Finland and Sweden joining NATO, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock insisted on the right of free decision of the two countries. “It is the right of each country (…) to freely choose its defense alliances,” Baerbock said on the sidelines of a visit to Niger. This applies all the more to two European countries which are already members of the European Union.

“If Finland and Sweden decide to do so, then they are welcome” in the defense alliance, Baerbock said in response to a reporter’s question in Niamey, the Nigerian capital. However, the Minister stressed that this was exclusively a decision of Finland and Sweden themselves. Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine is also an attack on the European peace order. The Nordic partners had made it clear that their security concerns would also increase as a result.

Former Russian President and current Deputy Head of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev has previously threatened a nuclear buildup in the Baltic region if Finland and Sweden join NATO. The two countries are not yet part of the military alliance. However, the war in Ukraine has triggered the debate on NATO membership – the governments in Helsinki and Stockholm want to decide this in the near future.

Lithuania calls threat an ’empty blow’

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda described Medvedev’s threats as “an empty blow in the air”. “I don’t know if it’s possible to redeploy something that’s already deployed,” he said in Vilnius. According to the head of state of the Baltic country of the EU and NATO, Russia has already transferred nuclear weapons to its Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad. “Not strategic, but they are deployed,” Nauseda said. To the west, Lithuania borders Russian Kaliningrad – the area around the old Königsberg.

Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas is also surprised. The threat seemed “pretty strange”, he said. “Nuclear weapons have always been kept in the Kaliningrad region.” The international community and the countries of the region are fully aware of this, Anusauskas told the BNS agency. According to Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte, Lithuania is open to Finland and Sweden joining NATO. This would strengthen both the military alliance and the two countries and significantly increase the security of the region, she told Lithuanian radio.

Finland wants to decide quickly

According to Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, joining NATO would help Finland counter “various threats”, particularly vis-à-vis Russia. Finland has a “fairly strong conventional army”, but the massive Russian invasion of Ukraine has ushered in an era in which new threats are also emerging, the minister told CNN. “By working more closely with NATO, we can counter all of these different threats,” he said.

The war of aggression in Ukraine shows that Russia is ready to take higher risks in its neighborhood, the minister said. There is also – although more speculation – the threat of “the possible use of nuclear or even chemical weapons”. All of this, of course, has security implications for Finland, Haavisto said.

Meanwhile, a majority of the population supports NATO membership, the minister said. Parliament will therefore deal with it in the coming weeks. If there is then a majority in favor of joining, the current 30 members of NATO will still have to agree, he explained. Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Wednesday she expected a decision on NATO membership to be made “in weeks, not months.”

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