Russia has issued an ominous warning to Sweden and Finland should they decide to join NATO.
It said the countries will face ‘serious military and political repercussions’ if it became a member of the defensive alliance.
After weeks of denying plans to invade Ukraine while amassing as many as 190,000 troops on its border, Russia demanded legal guarantees that the nation is never allowed to join NATO.
It argued the alliance has expanded too far eastwards and poses a threat to national security, but Ukraine was not immediately close to joining.
While Russia has blamed the pact for current tensions, others have pointed to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s longstanding obsession with returning Ukraine to Moscow’s fold.
Still the Kremlin is keen for NATO not to expand further, as Russia appeared to turn its attention to Sweden and Finland.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the two nations ‘should not base their security on damaging the security of other countries’.
She added: ‘Their accession to NATO can have detrimental consequences and face some military and political consequences.’
Later reiterating the threat on Twitter, Russia’s foreign ministry said: ‘We regard the Finnish government’s commitment to a military non-alignment policy as an important factor in ensuring security and stability in northern Europe,’
The department added: ‘Finland’s accession to @NATO would have serious military and political repercussions.’
It comes after US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Vladimir Putin may push further into Eastern Europe if he manages to take over Ukraine.
It came as satellite images showed Russian troops and artillery building up along Belarus’ border with Poland.
Blinken said ‘you don’t need intelligence’ to see that Putin has ambitious beyond Ukraine, adding that ‘he’s made it clear that he’d like to reconstitute the Soviet empire’.
Failing that, he’d like to bring former Soviet bloc countries back under Russia’s sphere of influence, or at least make them become neutral by cutting ties with the West, the top diplomat added.
But Blinken said an attack on NATO members, such as Poland, Slovakia, Hungary or Romania, would be considered an attack on all members, which is the ‘most powerful deterrent’ against Putin stretching beyond Ukraine.
While never ruling it out, Finland and Sweden have never been in a rush to join the alliance, having generally maintained a tradition of military neutrality.
But ironically Russia’s aggression is likely to reignite a debate within the two countries over their potential NATO membership and could push them to join.
Biden met virtually with NATO countries yesterday morning to reassure eastern members they will be protected as Russian troops prepared to enter Kyiv.
After the meeting, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the 30-nation organisation will send parts of its response force and spearhead unit to the alliance’s eastern flanks. This is the first time the force has been used to defend its own allies.