Negotiations between Finland and countries and the NATO Alliance were concluded in Brussels on July 4. On July 5, the Swedish and Finnish foreign ministers signed an accession protocol at NATO headquarters. At a June 29, 2022 press conference, when the final outcome of the negotiations were already clear, Vladimir Putin was asked whether his war in Ukraine designed to thwart NATO expansion to Russia’s borders was working out now that Finland and Sweden were joining that alliance, Putin made light of Swedish and Finnish NATO membership: “On the other hand, regarding Sweden and Finland, we do not have such problems with Sweden and Finland as we have, regrettably, with Ukraine. We do not have territorial issues or disputes with them. There is nothing that could inspire our concern regarding Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO. If they want it, they can do it.”
In an interview with Olga Bozheva of Moskovskiy Komsomolets, Ruslan Pukhov, a military analyst and Director at the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST), took issue with Putin’s sanguine appraisal and termed the development a deterioration of Russia’s strategic position. Unlike many of the new NATO members, Sweden and Finland were rich countries, with modern armies and defense production capabilities. Russia’s second city St. Petersburg was now under naval threat from NATO.
Pukhov also made another point that cannot be pleasing to a Russian leadership that has prided itself in avoiding an arms race that had bankrupted the Soviet Union. Pukhov noted “ We’ll have to spend more on defense than we did before February of this year. Consequently, it will mean that less money will be allocated on infrastructure projects, health care, and education. There is no need to harbor any illusions here.”
The full interview follows below:
At the moment there are rather contradictory statements about Sweden and Finland joining NATO. A number of political analysts claim that this doesn’t present a serious threat to us [Russia], some believe that we need to strengthen our borders, to the point of deploying tactical nuclear arms there. What, in your opinion, does their entry into the alliance signify for us?
Undoubtedly, this means a deterioration of our strategic position. And not because these states suddenly and in one fell swoop became anti-Russian; even before the special operation they loved us like a dog loves a stick. However, they were not integrated into NATO institutions (at least de jure), so they behaved cautiously and correctly towards us.
Now their joining the Alliance could result in their leadership (especially as governments change from more sensible to less sensible ones) may potentially start to provoke us, thus increasing the risk of war. Be that as it may, this move by Stockholm and Helsinki won’t lead to anything good. And I believe that whoever says that their accession to NATO means practically nothing to us, is lying.
The situation is quite serious. For instance, the Finns decided to buy the American F-35 fighter-jets. With modern weapons on board, it’s a formidable military force, which poses a danger even to our 5th generation aircraft, which we [the Russian army]now have in very limited quantities.
I believe the Finns, probably, have largely perfected protocols for suppressing our air defense systems. Thus, it’s not surprising that the possibility of using tactical nuclear arms in this region is becoming increasingly relevant to us.
It’s known that the Finnish army is not large, enjoying only 21,500 servicemen. How do you assess its capabilities in general?
The Finnish army is a very powerful combat body. Not because it has fought a lot, but because it has been well prepared through all its existence to fight us. And in case of anything, their army will be very motivated. The Finns possess good tank units; they have wonderful infantry. This, in general, is a very serious enemy.
And what can be said about the Swedish army?
The Swedes possess a smaller army than the Finns. Their army, relatively speaking, could be called less combat-ready. After all, unlike Finland, we have no land border with the Swedes. Let me remind you, the border with Finland is over a thousand kilometers long.
However, the Swedes have a deep Russophobic tradition, dating back centuries. And this fact makes them a very unpleasant opponent too. If they have to fight us, they will do so in a very motivated way.
Both countries, by the way, enjoy quite a strong military industry.
True, they have their own military-industrial complex. The Swedes, for instance, produce airplanes, including long-range radar detection airplanes, i.e., the air command posts. They enjoy a very well-developed military-industrial complex. The Swedes have historically stressed significant self-sufficiency in this regard.
“Gripen” planes are also Sweden-made, aren’t they?
True, but in addition to airplanes, they also have their locally-produced beautiful corvettes, submarines, missiles… In general, both Sweden and Finland are rich countries. Whatever their armies lack, they can buy either in other European countries or in the US, as the Finns are doing by purchasing the “F-35” jets there.
Now, against the background of our special operation, the military budgets of these two states will be increased. What’s more in the sphere of defense they will begin to integrate more closely with the rest of the European NATO member-states.
Before the accession, they mainly developed these ties with their neighbors, i.e., Norway and Denmark. Now military cooperation will be much wider, extending to Europe and the US, which is, naturally, bad for us.
This will compel us to invest more financially into an ‘arms race.’ We have already been dragged into it. And now it doesn’t matter at all whether we did it ourselves, or whether we were dragged into it. The account scoreboard is visible. We’ll have to spend more on defense than we did before February of this year. Consequently, it will mean that less money will be allocated on infrastructure projects, health care, and education. There is no need to harbor any illusions here.
After the expansion of NATO to Finland and Sweden, the Baltic Sea will become practically an internal sea of the alliance. What are the military threats of this for us?
Yes, correctly spotted. Since the 1990s the Baltic sea has been largely demilitarized. Most countries, including Russia, kept token contingents of their naval forces there. Now a naval and missile arms race will start in the Baltic.
Worst of all, with Sweden and Finland joining NATO, St. Petersburg is turned into a front-line city. This puts the city under a risk of an attack, as the modern arms of Alliance vessels dive them the capability of delivering a devastating blow to the city. In order to prevent this, we’ll have to seriously strengthen the air and missile defense system there.
Could the accelerated accession of these states into the alliance possibly be attributed to the fact that NATO member-states are already running out of arms because of the supply of weapons to Ukraine? This has weakened the bloc. In turn, Finland and Sweden are rich countries with their own defense industry. Provided they join the alliance in difficult times, they themselves could become a decent asset to the alliance.
I agree. However, there are two main components to NATO’s structure: the first is a military organization, the second is a political component. Through the latter the Americans conduct their European policy, it’s a sort of a docking strap to Washington.
Regarding this second component, in the grand scheme of things, nothing changes with the accession of these two countries. As Washington dictated its will through NATO, it will continue to do so. Simply speaking two more countries that refuse to pursue a policy independent of the US will be added on the European list [of such states].
However, the military component of NATO will sense a marked augmentation on account of Sweden and Finland. The accession of many newcomers to the bloc didn’t provide any benefits to the Alliance, because these countries weren’t ‘security donors.’ Instead, they became consumers of security and could contribute nothing to the NATO military organization.
Back in the day there was even a joke that in order to collapse this organization, either everyone should leave it, or everyone should join at once. As a military organization, NATO, as a result of accepting such members, simply swelled, becoming something shapeless and unmanageable.
In your opinion, Sweden and Finland cannot be considered simply ‘security consumers,’?
After Poland joined NATO in 1997, all the other countries that entered subsequently, were mostly deadweight. In some cases, quite a blatant burden, as, for example, Montenegro, Croatia, or Albania; in some cases, the new member-states were only a partial ‘burden’, like Slovakia or the Czech Republic.
It’s clear that in the 25 years since the first wave of NATO enlargement, this institution is, for the first time, expanding thanks to an asset, rather than a liability. In this regard, it’s, no doubt, a valuable acquisition for the alliance.
I don’t quite agree with your argument about Russophobia. Neither Finland nor Sweden seem to have distinguished themselves in this quality.
How do I put it…The Swedes say that they haven’t forgotten how 300 years ago the troops of Peter I ruled over their lands [Sweden fought against a coalition of European states including Russia]. They remind us of some burnt church.
But we, too, have a good memory, and we remember how in 1706 in Poland the Swedes treated the captive Russian soldiers, who fought in the ranks of the Saxon army. After the battle, the Swedes methodically separated the Russians from the Saxons, and then all our soldiers were stabbed with bayonets right on the spot, thus committing a war crime.
In World War II Sweden was de facto (although, not de jure) an ally of Hitler. While formally a neutral state, it took a hostile stance towards us, aiding the Nazis.
That happened a long time ago, it’s remote history. We also fought the Finns. But in recent decades, relations have improved, and joint business has been actively developing.
Considering the domestic side of the issue, naturally, Finns are civilized, rich people. Any xenophobia is most often born out of poverty, when everybody resents everybody. But we are talking about politics. Things are completely different there.
Despite the fact that Finland formally had no territorial claims against Russia and recognized the results of World War II, the Finnish political establishment and many Finnish citizens haven’t forgotten that the city of Vyborg was once Finland’s second largest city after Helsinki, called Viipuri. Finns first lost it in 1940, and then withdrew in 1944. And at the slightest opportunity, naturally, they will try to get it back.
Do you think they harbor such plans?
I’m sure that if the slightest opportunity presents itself to regain control over their former territories, they will certainly take advantage of it. I have no doubt that they will try to “snatch” Vyborg and half of Karelia from us.
We won’t allow them do that, won’t we?
It all depends on the situation. And it will worsen with Finland’s and Sweden’s accession to NATO. True, there were no illusions about these countries before. Thus, now we’ll just have to sagaciously maneuver the available capabilities and curb the unjustified, or provocative impulses on the part of these countries.
Both the Swedes and the Finns had already experienced the power of Russian arms. They have unpleasant memories [of it]. They still remember quite well how they were kicked in the teeth by us. And if they forget, we can remind them. So, they can sink their teeth into us, only if we appear openly weak. This means we can’t be weak.