Russia: Our opposition to further NATO expansion also concerns Sweden and Finland

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Swedish Armed Forces personnel in Gotland, Sweden, are conducting helicopter attack defense exercises in 2017 as part of joint exercises with NATO allies and partners. Sweden and Finland are not members of the alliance, but “enhanced opportunity partners”. (Photo by Anders Wiklund / AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – The Kremlin has reaffirmed that it views further NATO expansion in former Soviet countries as a ‘life and death’ issue, but Moscow also clarifies that it opposes to Sweden and Finland, nations that were not part of it. of the USSR, joining the alliance.

Ahead of talks with the West next month, which Russia hopes will stop further NATO enlargement, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the broadcaster on Sunday. Russia 1 that the prospect of Ukraine, Georgia or Moldova being admitted into NATO was a matter of “life and death for us”.

Peskov said this is a topic President Vladimir Putin is getting “emotional” on.

“Over the past two decades, even more, we have been constantly deceived [by the West], and as a result of this deception, we have come to a situation where our security is threatened. “

Earlier today, Putin told the same network that he hopes the planned talks will produce the binding security guarantees Russia expects from NATO and the United States.

Otherwise, he said, Russia’s response would depend on the options military leaders present to it.

The Foreign Ministry released two draft documents on December 17 – a draft Russian-American agreement on security guarantees and a draft Russian-NATO security agreement.

Russia hopes to hold talks in January on the proposals contained in the plans, which include a halt to NATO expansion, and no further “military activity” of the alliance in countries bordering or close to Russia.

While the main focus has been on Ukraine, not least due to Russia’s seven-year military intervention and a recent build-up of Russian forces near its border, the Foreign Ministry has also warned Finland and Sweden not to continue their membership.

The two Nordic democracies are members of the European Union but not of NATO. Both governments have opposed Russia’s recent hostile conduct towards Ukraine and threats to alliance activities and expansion.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said NATO’s attempts to draw Finland and Sweden “into the orbit of its opportunistic interests and policies” had not gone unnoticed from Russia.

The accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO “would have serious military and political consequences which would require an adequate response from the Russian side”, she declared.

Zakharova added that Russia viewed the traditional Finnish and Swedish policy of staying out of NATO as “an important factor in ensuring stability in northern Europe”.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meets Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist and Finnish Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen at a sea base in Sweden at the end of October.  (Photo by Fredrik Sandberg / TT News Agency / AFP via Getty Images)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meets Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist and Finnish Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen at a sea base in Sweden at the end of October. (Photo by Fredrik Sandberg / TT News Agency / AFP via Getty Images)

As part of a program launched by NATO in 2014, Finland and Sweden are “enhanced opportunities partners” who work with the alliance to ensure the interoperability of armed forces with a view to their involvement in certain future NATO operations. (The other countries in the initiative are Ukraine, Georgia, Australia and Jordan.)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg visited Finland and Sweden in October, met together with their defense ministers, and praised the strengthening of ties.

“Over the years, we have worked more and more closely together. And we have seen the security situation in the region deteriorate, with Russia’s aggressive posture and its military build-up, ”he said. “This makes our cooperation even more important. “

When Russia earlier this month started a new push for guarantees against further NATO expansion, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö issued a declaration stressing the importance of his country’s “national room for maneuver and freedom of choice”, including the possibility of NATO alignment and membership.

Finnish Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen in a later interview told the Helsinki daily Helsingin Sanomat that it was not planned at this stage to apply for membership in NATO.

National sentiment on the issue is divided, although opposition to NATO membership has apparently declined slightly in recent years – from 61 percent opposed in 2016 to 51 percent opposed three years later.

As Russian-Ukrainian tensions have increased in recent weeks, Niinistö spoke by phone with Putin, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and president Biden. In this last conversation, he said that Finland appreciates that NATO maintains an “open door” policy.

The “open door” policy means that any country can join NATO if all current allies agree and if the aspirant meets certain criteria, mainly involving military reforms.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Riga, Latvia, on December 1.  (Photo by Gints Ivuskans / AFP via Getty Images)

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Riga, Latvia, on December 1. (Photo by Gints Ivuskans / AFP via Getty Images)

The Swedish foreign minister last week also rejected Russia’s request that NATO stop admitting new members.

“Sweden and Finland are very affected by this”, noted Foreign Minister Ann Linde. “Rejecting any future NATO expansion will reduce the possibilities to make independent political choices. “

“We must have a rules-based world order, where we have international law and where each country has the right to make its own choices in matters of security policy,” she said.

Sweden at the start of the month update a 20-year defense agreement with Ukraine involving cooperation in military training and information exchange, and expressed support for Kiev in the face of Russia’s threatening behavior.

As in Finland, Swedish opposition to NATO membership has also seems to have fallen in recent years, according to some polls – from 50 percent opposition in 2016 to 35 percent at the start of this year (with roughly the same proportion of the undecided).

Cooperation between Russia and NATO has been suspended since 2014 following Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. The main forum for exchanges, the NATO-Russia Council, has met occasionally since, but not since mid-2019.

Russian media are now reporting that a NATO-Russia Council meeting could be held in Brussels on January 12, for the first time in two and a half years.

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