The Russian threat of “serious consequences” if Finland and Sweden were to join NATO sits far into an uncertain future. But the ironic consequences of the invasion of Ukraine cannot be lost on President Putin: the aim to save Ukraine from NATO has on the contrary driven more and more of frontline Europe into NATO’s arms.
With Finland almost certainly now in NATO, the invasion policy has boomeranged dangerously. Russia finds itself faced with the prospect of US ground troops and air force bases right on its doorstep across a 1,340 km front with Finland.
That marks an apparent success in NATO policy in enlisting more and more hitherto neutral border nations with Russia into NATO, which has been pushing eastwards towards Russia with some determination.
A Russian reaction will not be an easy option for it, but it also would mean that NATO would inevitably be drawn more frontally into a wider conflict with Russia. That could turn the somewhat overheated predictions at present of a third world war into grim reality.
The NATO hope clearly is that Russian forces struggle against poor Ukraine that it outmatches overwhelmingly by way of a military arsenal. Russia will not be in a hurry to attack Finland which gave Russian forces more than a fight in 1939, and which showed its unexpected might again during World War II.
Russia has already signalled the beginning of what could be serious consequences, it might not quite the bluff it’s currently being taken to be. Russia is due to stop electricity supply to Finland this weekend. RAO Nordic, a subsidiary of the Russian state firm selling electricity to Finland says it will cut supplies over non-payment.
For now, Finland says it will make up for lost supply with alternative supply from Norway and Sweden. Less than 10 percent of Finland’s electricity supply comes from Finland.
The electricity supply threat came just a day after Finland’s leaders announced that the country must join NATO “without delay”.
Russian warnings have been stepped up, with signs that its retaliation may not stop with an electricity cut. It has accused Finland of “pushing above its weight.” Energy supply has been Russia’s first weapon against Europe, but it may not be its last. Russia has said officially that it will be “forced to take reciprocal steps, military-technical and other, to address the resulting threats.”
Pushed to the Wall
Former British ambassador to Moscow Sir Tony Brenton told BBC that there may now be “much more Russian nuclear deployment in the Baltic”. The warning runs contrary to the official British dismissal of an increased nuclear threat from Russia as mere posturing.
The relative failure of conventional Russian forces in Ukraine means that the Russian military “will be increasingly inclined therefore to use their nuclear strength as a demonstration they need to be taken seriously.”
An informal meeting of foreign ministers of NATO countries in Berlin this weekend will be a crunch moment in determining where NATO positions itself. Few expect it to take the path of conciliation rather than confrontation. German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock has called the meeting to work out a coordinated response to the Russian attack on Ukraine. Now Finland and Sweden are high on the agenda as well. A separate dinner has been arranged with the leaders of those two countries.
The NATO meeting has been declared informal, and an official realignment of positioning is not expected. But the most critical signs to emerge could be the extent to which NATO offers some real protection to Finland and Sweden ahead of their formal membership. That could take more than a year because it must follow ratification by parliaments of all existing NATO countries.
— London Eye is a weekly column by CNBC-TV18’s Sanjay Suri, which gives a peek at business-as-unusual from London and around.
(Edited by : Kanishka Sarkar)