Moscow’s aggression toward Ukraine is forcing countries around Russia to reconsider security options. Sweden and Finland are toying with the idea of joining NATO, but Russia issued a stern warning during Finland’s National Defense Courses Association.
“Military cooperation between Russia and NATO is progressing well and is beneficial to both parties. In contrast, cooperation between Finland and NATO threatens Russia’s security. Finland should not be desirous of NATO membership, rather it should preferably have tighter military cooperation with Russia,” said Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia Nikolai Yegorovich Makarov.
According to YLE, Makarov even “questioned Finland’s right to hold military exercises on its own territory.”
“Who are they aimed against?” he asked the people at the conference.
Finland’s Defense Minister Stefan Wallin released a statement and appeared not to be troubled by Makarov’s remarks.
“Positions can be freely presented in Finland. This is a free country,” said Wallin.
“But, Finland evaluates its relationship with NATO, in the manner laid out in the government’s programme, on the basis of its own national security and defence policy interests. This statement means that Finland makes its evaluations and decisions itself and independently,” he continued.
During the last week of March, Russia decided to perform military exercises on Finland’s border, which was just a week after Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine. While the countries cooperate with NATO and the other NATO Nordic states Denmark, Norway, and Iceland, recent events may force Sweden and Finland to do more.
“I think it would be good to have an open debate about NATO already now, and I hope that everyone would participate in it, even those who oppose the membership,” said Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen.
Sweden even chose to cut budgets other projects instead of defense. From Reuters:
Swedish Deputy Prime Minister Jan Bjorklund called last month for a “doctrinal shift” in defence policy after the Crimea crisis. Calling Russia “a bit more erratic and unpredictable,” Finance Minister Anders Borg called for “a substantial scaling up” of defence spending.
Borg’s statement came after Sweden moved two fighter jets to Gotland, a strategically important Baltic island where spending cuts in recent years had all but eliminated defences.