Alexey Zakvasin, Elizaveta Komarova
Stockholm opposes compromises with Moscow on security issues. This was stated by Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultkvist, commenting on the demand of the Russian Federation to provide legal guarantees for the non-expansion of NATO, which was submitted for discussion with the West. Officially, the Scandinavian kingdom is not going to join the alliance, but it seeks to preserve this right. Finland, which nominally adheres to neutrality, acts in a similar way. At the same time, both countries do not hide their plans to increase cooperation with the North Atlantic bloc. According to experts, Stockholm and Helsinki are de facto pursuing a course aimed at integrating into the military activities of the alliance, although this worsens relations with Moscow and destabilizes the situation in northern Europe.
Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist declared that no compromises with Moscow on security issues were acceptable. He said this, speaking on January 10 at the nationwide online conference “People and Defense”.
“Russia is constantly striving to advance its positions – in violation of international law. Demands against the sovereignty of individual countries are completely unacceptable, ”Hultqvist said. Thus, the Minister of Defense of Sweden commented on the demand of the Russian Federation to refuse NATO from further expansion.
At the same time, Stockholm’s official position does not provide for joining the ranks of the North Atlantic Alliance, and in a comment to Bloomberg on January 10, the Swedish Defense Minister said that non-joining NATO remains the best option for ensuring the kingdom’s security. In addition, he emphasized the importance of strengthening the country’s military cooperation with the United States. On the same day, the country’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said that Sweden did not need to join NATO. At the same time, she stressed that the kingdom intends to deepen cooperation with the alliance, including through joint exercises and information exchange.
It is worth noting that the statements of Hultqvist and Andersson sounded against the background of the talks that had started between Moscow and the West on security issues. On January 10, consultations between representatives of the Russian Federation and the United States took place in Geneva. On January 12, a meeting of the Russia-NATO Council is to take place, and on January 13, a multilateral meeting is planned at the OSCE site.
One of the key requirements of Moscow is the legally enshrined guarantees that the alliance will not expand to the east. According to the head of the Russian delegation, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, “NATO (should. – RT ) return, as they say, to its original positions in terms of its training, intelligence activities, infrastructure creation, and so on as of 1997”, when the countries of Eastern Europe have not yet been included in the bloc.
Following the Geneva consultations, Ryabkov said that the United States had taken Russia’s proposals on security guarantees seriously. According to the Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, the conversation with the American representatives turned out to be difficult and long, but at the same time “very professional, deep, and concrete.” However, no progress was achieved in the negotiations on the issue of NATO’s non-expansion, Ryabkov noted.
Let us recall that 1994 is considered to be the point of reference for cooperation between Sweden and NATO, when the kingdom became a member of the Partnership for Peace program. However, the most intensive interaction between Stockholm and the military bloc began to develop 20 years later – in 2014, at the summit of the alliance in Wales, the Kingdom of Sweden received the status of a partner with expanded capabilities.
Recently, the Swedish army has been conducting intensive exercises with NATO member countries and has noticeably strengthened military-technical cooperation with the members of the alliance. One of the major arms contracts was the deal concluded with the United States for the supply of Patriot anti-aircraft systems. The kingdom should receive 12 launchers and more than 200 missiles. Arms deliveries from overseas began in the spring of 2021 and should be completed in 2023.
Along with this, the internal military policy of Stockholm has noticeably changed. In particular, in 2018, Sweden restored military conscription. With this measure, the kingdom plans to increase its total wartime troop strength from the current 55,000 to 80,000 by 2025 and to 100,000 by 2030. Also, Stockholm took a course to increase the cost of maintaining the armed forces. Until 2025, funding for the Swedish army will increase by 40%. Moreover, as the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Swedish Armed Forces, General Mikael Buden, said at the end of 2021 in an interview with the American publication Defense News, the increase in spending on Swedish military needs was the result of Russia’s actions.
In addition, the attitude of Swedish society towards the prospect of the country’s joining the alliance is gradually changing. According to the latest data from the research company Ipsos, there are still more opponents of the kingdom’s membership in NATO, but there is a tendency to decrease them.
According to December estimates, the share of such respondents dropped to 35%. This is the lowest figure since the end of 2014. The share of the Swedish population, which is in favor of joining the alliance, has grown to 33%, the number of undecided remained at 32%.
In an interview with RT, Lev Voronkov, professor of the Department of Integration Processes at MGIMO, stated that the widespread fears of the mythical “Russian threat”, which had been widely spread in recent years, had a significant impact on the discussion about Sweden’s possible entry into NATO.
“These are absolutely far-fetched ideas related to the ‘threats’ from Russia. However, this information campaign has been going on for a long time. Now the majority of Swedish citizens are against joining NATO, but such discussions are still kept afloat in order to sooner or later change public opinion in the opposite direction, “Voronkov said.
“Pulling into orbit”
In addition to Sweden, Finland, another northern state that is not a member of the North Atlantic bloc, also opposes the provision of guarantees for the non-expansion of NATO to the Russian Federation.
In a New Year’s address to the country’s citizens, Prime Minister Sanna Marin said that Helsinki retains the opportunity to apply for membership in the bloc. According to her, Finland must defend the freedom of choice of security policy.
Moscow, naturally, has a negative attitude to the prospect of two more NATO member states appearing at its borders. At the end of December, during a briefing, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned that if Sweden and Finland joined the alliance, such steps would not go unanswered.
“It is quite obvious that the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO, which is primarily a military structure and certainly does not prioritize the defense agenda, but is engaged in just aggressive activities … would have serious military-political consequences that would require adequate steps from the Russian parties, “- said Zakharova.
According to a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, the alliance is pursuing a purposeful policy of “drawing Helsinki and Stockholm into the orbit of its interests and opportunistic policies”. Zakharova noted that Finland and Sweden have not only become more actively involved in large-scale exercises of the bloc, but also provide their territories for “such maneuvers.”
Like Sweden, Finland is pursuing a course of deepening military-technical cooperation with the United States. So, in December 2021, the Finnish government decided to purchase 64 fifth-generation F-35 combat aircraft from the American company Lockheed Martin. The fighters are to be delivered between 2025 and 2030. For these purposes, Finland will spend about € 10 billion.
Finland is considered to remain neutral. Nevertheless, back in 1995, in a report to parliament, the Finnish government excluded the concept of “neutrality”, although three years earlier it had approved the wording on military non-alignment and self-defense. And in 1997, the authorities already admitted the possibility of receiving military assistance from outside.
According to Lev Voronkov, today Finland and Sweden have become “special partners of NATO” deeply immersed in the military and political activities of the bloc.
At the same time, the expert recalled that even during the Cold War, both countries did not take steps that could be perceived by Moscow as a provocation. According to Voronkov, Stockholm and Helsinki took into account the negative experience of the wars with Russia and realized the grave consequences for security in the event of a confrontational course.
“The Scandinavians came up with an idea called the northern balance. It consisted in the development of cooperation both within the region and with the poles of power represented by the USA and the USSR. However, such a balanced policy is no longer being pursued. At the same time, joining NATO runs counter to the interests of Sweden and Finland. In my opinion, defending this opportunity has turned into a means of putting pressure on the Russian Federation, ”Voronkov said.
In a commentary on RT, Vladimir Stol, doctor of political sciences, professor at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry, said that Finland, following Sweden, is actually becoming part of the North Atlantic Alliance. This transformation, according to the expert, significantly exacerbates the situation in Northern Europe.
“Moscow has always welcomed the pragmatism of the Scandinavians, giving them trade preferences. But, apparently, their prudence is a thing of the past. I think that in the case of Finland, the example of Sweden turned out to be contagious, which is now in fact very deeply integrated into NATO structures. Apparently, the elites of both countries are poorly aware of how such a policy will destabilize the situation in the region and that they will not receive any benefits from the deterioration of relations with Moscow,” Stoll concluded.
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