Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister of Russia.
Andrey Rudakov Bloomberg | Getty Images
Russia says a nuclear-free Baltic region would no longer be possible if Finland and Sweden joined NATO, hinting at additional nuclear deployments in Europe.
“We can no longer talk about the status of the Baltic Sea without nuclear energy – the balance must be restored,” Dmitry Medvedev, a former president and deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, wrote on his official Telegram channel on Thursday.
The comments come a day after Finland and Sweden said their decision on whether to apply for NATO membership would come in a few weeks. The leaders said their security assessments had changed dramatically since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
If Finland and Sweden do join NATO, it will give Moscow “more officially registered opponents,” Medvedev added. He claims that NATO plans to accept the two Scandinavian countries with “minimum bureaucratic procedures”.
Russia’s response must be accepted “without emotion, with a cold head”, he added.
The Baltic states, which include the northeastern European countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, are members of the EU and NATO. Finland and Sweden are members of the EU, but not NATO, and the latter has a common border with Russia of 830 miles.
Lithuania, which borders Russia’s exclave in Kaliningrad, rejected Medvedev’s comments Thursday.
This is “nothing new”, said Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvidas Anusauskas, adding that Russia already has nuclear weapons in the Baltic region.
“The current Russian threats seem rather strange when we know that even without the current security situation, they are keeping the weapon 100 km from the Lithuanian border,” the minister was quoted as saying by Lithuanian TV channel BNS.
“Nuclear weapons have always been stored in Kaliningrad … the international community, the countries in the region are fully aware of that … They are using it as a threat,” he added.
Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked a turn in Finnish public opinion about joining the 30-member military alliance, in which it has refrained from joining after World War II in a bid to maintain neutrality. Moscow has in the past warned of dire consequences and instability in the Scandinavian countries if Finland joins.
If Finland joins the alliance, Sweden is likely to follow suit. Finland and Sweden, as well as Ukraine, are already NATO’s “enhanced partners”, the closest form of partnership with the Alliance, and are participating in military exercises with NATO countries.