Russia is furious that Finland is joining NATO, but there’s not much it can do about it

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RIGA, Latvia – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted Finland to put aside long-standing concerns about provoking Russia and seek NATO membership, a major strategic setback for Russia.

The invasion also means there’s little Russia can do about it.

The Russian army is entangled in fierce fighting in Ukraine, its ranks exhausted by heavy losses in men and equipment. Russia withdrew troops from the border with Finland to send them to Ukraine, leaving Moscow with a significantly reduced capacity to threaten Finland militarily.

Russia supplies Finland with small amounts of gas and oil, but Finland was already preparing to cut those supplies in line with the European Union’s decisions to reduce dependence on Russian energy. A possible early response came on Saturday with the announcement by Russian state-owned company RAO Nordic that it has halted electricity exports to Finland, although it was unclear whether the move was intended as a punishment. Russia blamed Western sanctions for the move and said they had made it difficult for Russia to receive payments for the supplies.

Finland shrugged off the action. Finnish officials said they had already cut Russian electricity imports to guard against possible attacks on the country’s infrastructure, and Russian electricity accounted for just 10 percent of consumption.

Russia may attempt cyber-attacks on Finland’s infrastructure or conduct hybrid warfare in an attempt to influence Finnish public opinion, but Finland has highly developed systems that can counter such efforts, said retired Major General Pekka Toveri, a former head of the National Security Council. Finnish army intelligence.

“They don’t really have much they can use to threaten us,” Toveri said. “They have no political, military or economic power.”

Finland’s decision, expected to be formally announced on Sunday, disrupts the balance of power along the northern borders of the NATO alliance. In the coming days, Sweden is expected to follow Finland’s lead and also seek NATO membership. But it is Finland’s accession that will have the biggest impact on Russia, as it will double the size of Russia’s land border with NATO and completely surround the three ports on the Baltic Sea.

For decades, Finland had refrained from joining NATO for fear of provoking its larger, nuclear-armed neighbor. And Russian President Vladimir Putin had kept those fears alive with vague threats of war and threatening harassment in Finnish airspace and waters.

The invasion of Ukraine nullified that calculation, leading the Finns to conclude that they would be safer under NATO’s protective umbrella than dealing with Russia alone. Before the war, only 20 percent of Finns were in favor of joining NATO. In May, that figure was already 76 percent.

Finns have also concluded that the Russian military’s unexpectedly dismal performance and battlefield setbacks in Ukraine suggest it no longer poses the threat it once posed, Toveri said.

“Russia is now so weak that they cannot risk another humiliating defeat,” he said. If Russia tried to send troops to Finland, they would be wiped out in a few days. The risk of a humiliating defeat is high, and I don’t think they can handle that.”

For the Kremlin, “it’s a very ironic moment,” said Lauren Speranza, director of Transatlantic Defense and Security at the Center for European Policy Analysis. Deterring NATO expansion was one of Putin’s goals in attacking Ukraine, which was seeking NATO membership. Finland and Sweden didn’t — until the invasion of Ukraine, she noted.

From neutral to NATO: how Finland, Sweden transitioned during the invasion of Russia

“Not only does Putin have a huge failure on his hands in terms of his military objectives in Ukraine, but he has also expanded NATO, which was the exact opposite of what he wanted,” Speranza said. “It underlines what a huge strategic miscalculation this was.”

Moscow already appears to be weakening its threats of retaliation. In a phone call on Saturday, Putin told Finnish President Sauli Niinisto that Finland’s decision to join NATO is “wrong” and could have “a negative effect” on Russian-Finnish relations – but he made no specific threats, according to a Kremlin readout.

Niinisto, who started the call, bluntly told Putin that it was primarily his “mass invasion” of Ukraine that led Finland to seek the protections offered by the NATO security alliance, according to a statement from his office.

“The conversation was direct, uncomplicated and without irritation. Avoiding tensions was considered important,” the statement said.

In the weeks leading up to Finland’s announcement, Russian officials had warned of dire consequences, including deploying nuclear weapons nearby and sending military reinforcements to the Finnish border.

Since then, they have been more cautious, saying Russia’s response will depend on how far NATO goes toward settling on the Russian border.

The decision requires Russia to offer a “political response,” Russian news outlets quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko on Saturday as a step back from the “military and technical” response threatened Thursday by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

He also said it was “too early to talk about the deployment of nuclear weapons in the Baltic region” and added that “Moscow will not be guided by emotions” when making a decision on its response.

Russia will conduct a “thorough analysis” of any new configuration of troops on its border before deciding on its response, he said, echoing Peskov’s comments that the degree of Russian retaliation will depend on how much NATO military infrastructure gives to Russia. boundaries will be established.

No decisions have been made on what kind of presence NATO will establish in Finland and Sweden once their accession is formalized, which could take several months. A new problem has arisen in the form of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s objection to their membership on the grounds that Sweden hosts members of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

How the addition of Finland and Sweden would change NATO?

But it is highly likely that Finland’s membership will not require a significant presence of NATO troops, analysts say. Finland has a robust and well-equipped army that has held regular exercises with NATO countries. The military is already well integrated with NATO’s military systems.

The threat to Russia’s strategic interests is so great that Moscow will be forced to take any kind of action against Finland, said Dmitry Suslov of the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

He said Russia will at the very least need to strengthen its military presence along the Finnish border, as Finland will no longer be considered a “friendly” country. It will also need to bolster its naval presence in the Baltic, which he said will become “a NATO lake”.

If the United States or Britain establish bases in Finland, Russia “will have no choice but to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to attack those bases,” Suslov warned.

Finland is bracing for further actions, former Finnish general Toveri said, if only because Putin may feel the need to save face. But Finns have grown accustomed to living with a potentially hostile power on their borders for decades and don’t feel unnecessarily threatened, he said. “We are used to the Russians being there. Most Finns are not too concerned about it.”

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