Russia Ukraine’s war: Sweden and Finland are considering joining NATO
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Photo / Getty Images
Ukraine has destroyed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ability to take control of northeastern Europe. But Sweden and Finland still fear a Russian attack.
Over the past decade, the threat of invasion has been great over the Baltic states of Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
Putin’s threats have not been ignored.
In fact, his fighting spirit prompted the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to relocate, which he says was the “security threat” that prompted his unprovoked attack on Ukraine.
It is a symbolic force.
But it is also a demonstration of NATO’s willingness to defend its members.
And that protection suddenly seems very attractive to Finland and Sweden – both nations that remained neutral throughout the Cold War. Finland also borders Russia along its entire eastern side.
“Before Russia’s President Vladimir Putin began his invasion of Ukraine, the issue of NATO membership was hardly part of the political debate in Finland and Sweden,” states Carl Bildt, President of the Foreign Relations Council.
“In response to Russian aggression, both countries are re-evaluating their security policies, and seeking membership in NATO is rapidly emerging as the most realistic option.”
That is not what Putin wants to hear.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko has responded to the talks by saying that Moscow “will be forced to take security and defense measures that we deem necessary” in response.
Last week, the Russian frigate Neustrashimy launched a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in the Baltic Sea. And the Kaliningrad enclave between Poland and Lithuania practiced mobilization maneuvers.
But such signaling is more likely to convince Finland and Sweden of Russia’s hostility than to discourage any decision to join NATO.
And that is even given that Russia’s military may soon be a spent force.
Analysts estimate Russia’s losses at about 25 percent of the country’s invasion effort. Ukraine goes so far as to claim that 60 of the 120 Russian tactical battalion groups (BTGs) deployed in February have been “rendered ineffective”.
On Wednesday, Putin threatened to react with “lightning-fast” force if NATO intervened in Ukraine.
“[Countries] who get it in their heads to meddle in ongoing events from the side and create unacceptable strategic threats against Russia, they must know that our response to setbacks will be lightning fast. We all have tools for this that no one else can boast of having, ”warned the Russian leader.
This week, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that the White House expects “Russia to weaken to the point that it can not do the kind of things it has done when it invades Ukraine.”
Some military analysts say that is already the case.
Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) adviser Mark Cancian told The Times in London that Russian losses correspond to two years of tank production, one year of aircraft deliveries and several years of missile production.
And the Bellingcat Open Source Survey estimates that Russia has already consumed about 70 percent of all its available precision-guided missiles.
Then there is the human fee.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has acknowledged that Russia has experienced “a huge tragedy” with “significant losses of troops”. He does not want to say how many.
Estimates of Russian troops’ casualties vary widely, from Moscow’s 1,500 to Ukraine’s 21,000. However, many of them from “elite” units such as the paratroopers who failed to capture Hostomel Airport during the early days of the war.
Such a loss of accumulated experience and education can not be quickly compensated.
Especially when it comes to the 10 generals that Russia has lost so far.
A force to be reckoned with
Sweden and Finland have already taken sides.
They have both delivered a significant amount of weapons – including 10,000 anti-tank guns – to Ukraine.
But their transition to NATO is a surprise.
During the Cold War, both nations felt that any open loyalty to the West would make their position even more precarious.
“[The] official policy was a strict military freedom of alliance, however [Sweden] also made covert preparations to cooperate with the United States and NATO in the event of war, “writes Bildt.
With the fall of the Soviet Union, both Sweden and Finland joined the European Union.
But none of them felt the need to join NATO.
Now they do.
“Russia’s Invasion of Georgia [in 2004] revealed that its threshold for using military force to achieve its political goals was significantly lower than many had thought, and a distinctly revisionist tone began to creep into Moscow’s political statements, Bildt says.
But the direct invasion of Ukraine in February changed everything.
“The Russian leader and his aides have made it clear that they want to replace the security order after 1989 in Europe with arrangements that infringe on the sovereignty of other countries,” he said.
And the “political earthquake” has led Sweden and Finland to reassess their security situation urgently.
Their neighbor gives them a real cause for concern.
“The Putin regime – whether he or any of his associates are at the helm – is unlikely to give up his imperialist ambitions as long as it remains in power,” Bildt said.
“It is impossible to predict what kind of country Russia will be in the coming decades, but what is likely to emerge is a country that is both weaker in economic and military terms and more desperate and dangerous in political terms.”
On the verge of madness
Putin says the invasion of Ukraine was to neutralize “a real danger to … a major conflict that would have unfolded on our territory according to other people’s scripts.”
Exactly what form the “real danger” takes seems to be associated with vague accusations of NATO’s “expansionism”.
Putin may refer to the 4,600 troops that NATO sent to Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland in 2017. It was a response to the Russian leader’s invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
“These forces are a defensive and proportionate deterrent, fully in line with NATO’s international commitments,” NATO said.
“They are sending a clear message that an attack on an ally would be met by troops from all over the alliance.”
If Putin tried to nullify any NATO threat, he would have achieved the opposite.
“Following Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, the Allies have agreed to establish four more multinational battle groups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia,” a NATO statement said.
This brings the total number of units to eight, evenly distributed along NATO’s eastern flank – from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south.
It is nothing like the forces that Moscow has set up against them.
But if Sweden and Finland merge, the balance will shift markedly.
“Each country provides the military with significant military resources: Finland has an army with very large reserves and Sweden has strong air and naval forces, especially submarine forces,” says Bildt.
“Integrated control over the entire area will facilitate the defense of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as Swedish territory and airspace in particular are important for such operations.”
A consumed power?
A single Russian BTG: These are supported by 10 main combat tanks, 46 armored vehicles, 15 artillery vehicles, 10 air defense vehicles and dozens of trucks containing everything from jamming equipment and drones to fuel and mobile kitchens.
In January, Russia had a total of 168 BTGs. And these are just its mobile armored warfare units. Russia has many other military formations to fall back on.
About 120 BTGs were deployed at the border with Ukraine. About 76 of these units are currently fighting in the Donbas region.
Moscow says it is mobilizing 10 new tactical battalion groups and strengthening those who have suffered losses. Doing so will involve new conscripts, reactivated retirees and old combat equipment being pulled out of reserve.
This will take time.
Equipment needs to be renovated. Troops must be trained. Combat operations must be practiced.
And morality is an important factor.
Putin’s troops have shown signs of losing their will to fight.
Ukraine was not the walkover they were promised. Others reportedly should not even know they were going to war.
Unconfirmed reports indicate that 60 paratroopers have been jailed for refusing to return to the front line. And an elite force from Spetsnaz is also said to have mutinied after being exposed to fighting in Mariupol.
And evidence of self-destructing vehicles and equipment is a favorite topic in Ukraine’s social media campaign.
This may be the reason why the Russian president continues to allude to using his nuclear force.
It’s the only ace he still has up his sleeve.
“We will not brag about it: we will use them if necessary, and I want everyone to know. We have already made all the decisions on this.”