Sweden and Finland found themselves drawn into Russia’s opposition to NATO after Moscow threatened retaliation if the two Nordic nations became full members of the US-led alliance.
Russia said it would have “serious military and political consequences” if the two EU countries – which conduct training exercises with NATO – agreed to it.
It is the latest in a series of demands made by Moscow as Western leaders try to persuade the country to take a step back from its military build-up on Ukraine’s border.
Although Russia’s top priority is to keep Ukraine out of NATO, its proposed new security agreement with the West would also prevent any enlargement to the Nordic nations outside its former Soviet sphere of influence.
“Russia sees the traditional policy of not participating in military alliances led by Sweden and Finland as an important factor in ensuring stability in northern Europe,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
While the two countries are officially non-aligned and neither is currently seeking membership in NATO, both have rejected Russia’s demand that the Kremlin have a veto on the issue.
Ann Linde, Sweden’s foreign minister, said that Russia’s desired treaty would “reduce the chances of making independent political choices”.
“We must have a rules-based world order, where we have international law and each country has the right to make its own security policy choices,” she said. Finland said it would keep its options open.
Russia and the United States will hold high-profile talks in early January after weeks of tensions linked to Moscow’s troop movements near Ukraine.
The talks will take place in Geneva, where US President Joe Biden met with Russia’s Vladimir Putin for a tense summit in June, Moscow confirmed on Tuesday.
The Kremlin denies that it intends to invade Ukraine, but the Western world has warned of heavy economic sanctions if it violates its neighbor’s territory.
Moscow made the unusual move of publishing draft treaties on a potential security deal – although Washington immediately signaled that some of Russia’s demands were unacceptable.
These included a ban on all future expansion of NATO, with only Ukraine mentioned by name, but others such as Finland and Sweden also included.
Sweden and Finland are officially known as “enhanced opportunities partners” to NATO and benefit from regular consultations, joint exercises and the exchange of information.
This month, Finland ordered $ 11 billion worth of F-35 fighter jets from US fighter jet manufacturer Lockheed Martin. President Sauli Niinisto told his counterpart Biden that he appreciated that the door to NATO was kept open.
Last year, Swedish members of parliament voted last year to retain a potential NATO membership as an alternative, even though Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said last month that Stockholm would maintain its non-aligned stance.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg visited the two countries in October and praised their cooperation with the Alliance in the face of Russia’s “aggressive stance and military build-up”.
Francois Heisbourg, an expert on European affairs at the International Institute for Security Studies, said that Moscow’s move could backfire if it pushed the two nations closer to joining NATO.
“Before this warning, there was no serious prospect of Finland and Sweden joining NATO,” he said. “Now the Russian press is making it difficult to pursue this policy.”
Updated: December 28, 2021, 3:28 p.m.