Since Russia started an attack on Ukraine; Eastern European, Baltic and Nordic states have been concerned about becoming Moscow’s new target. Except Finland and Sweden, the states of the region which are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), feel safe in the face of a possible Russian attack, there is no guarantee for that. The most important advantage obtained through NATO is that as a collective defence organization which discourages the aggressors. In other words, an aggressive state cannot afford to oppose all member states due to Article 5 of NATO. This is an important deterrent factor. If Finland and Sweden become members of NATO, it will reduce the likelihood of Russia attacking these countries, since such a scenario would mean a Russia-NATO War. Currently, the Moscow administration states that “they will protect their interests in the High North in the face of NATO’s increasing presence.”[i]
The North Pole ranks first in Russia’s national security. This is because that the Kremlin considers this area as a natural sphere of influence. Crossing of red lines is the main driving factor for states. Russia’s red line is its immediate vicinity. This includes the Arctic Region. As it is known, when Ukraine’s membership in NATO came to the agenda, Russia took action. At this point, NATO’s expansion towards the Arctic is in question. For this reason, it seems inevitable that Russia will increase its presence here in the near future.
Moscow has never hesitated from war to protect its vital interests. However, attacking NATO states is not a decision that Moscow can take easily. On the other hand, this attack might be possible if it is conducted within the scope of a strategy. In this context, stirring up dissent within NATO may be Moscow’s primary goal.
The energy crisis remains a bargaining issue in Russia’s relations with Europe. Rising energy bills may cause European states to reconsider their support for Kyiv in the Russia-Ukraine War. Russia is facing the possibility that the energy crisis, which has grown after Russia cut off the export of gas to Europe, will turn into a political crisis across Europe. Accordingly, countries that cannot reach energy at sufficient and cheap prices may end up competing with each other and become politically dissident. This applies to every region of Europe. Divisions between the Balkans, Scandinavia, the Baltic countries and Central Europe can begin.
Due to the Ukrainian Crisis, European states may face an internal conflict within the union. This situation may damage political and military cooperation and the integration process in Europe. For example, Balkan states may start questioning what they gain from the European Union (EU). During such a crisis, the benefits of NATO membership will also become questionable. If Europe is experiencing political divisions due to its support to Ukraine in the war, the benefits of the military alliance will also be questioned. Therefore, Sweden’s and Finland’s accession to NATO may also complicate the European integration process.
European states may not be able to overcome the energy related and economical effects of the war in Ukraine and a possible NATO-Russia War with an ease. The political rupture in Europe may grow before Sweden and Finland are able to complete their membership in NATO, and its repercussions can be seen in the military field. Most possibly, European states will not engage in a new war with Russia neither in Eastern Europe nor in Scandinavia.
In short, NATO’s expansion will deepen the differences of opinion within the organization regarding defence and security fields. Other than NATO, many consider the security issue as a priority topic. Each area has its own security issues. This is called the “Regional Security Complex Theory” in the academic literature. For example, Europe’s problem of migration and refugees is not seen as a security issue by the US. Similarly, the Russian threat to the Baltic or Nordic countries may not pose a security issue to every single NATO country.
NATO’s expansion brings disadvantages along with its advantages. In order to retaliate against Russia following the Ukrainian War, European states began to increase their military power within the framework of NATO or through regional alliances. In this context, the formation of a Scandinavian bloc within NATO seems inevitable. This is because the security agendas of the Nordic and Baltic nations are similar to each other. Baltic nations such as Latvia and Estonia continue their efforts to strengthen their own defences, even though they are NATO members. The main concern of these countries is that they will be defeated by a sudden attack from Russia until help comes from NATO. Since their land is not as large as Ukraine, it will take much less time to occupy Baltics.
Latvia plans to bring back compulsory military service in order to defend itself without waiting for NATO’s help in case of a sudden attack by Russia. Finland and Sweden continue their efforts to strengthen their self-defence until Türkiye approves them. The threat of Russian attacks is increasing day by day. For this reason, NATO membership may put Sweden and Finland under more risk.[ii] Indeed, NATO is no longer regarded as a protective shield, but as an organization that provokes Russia.
Europe’s security environment is becoming irreversibly militarized. It is estimated that this climbing race between Russia and NATO member states could ultimately lead to a conflict. NATO nations are encouraged to give more support to Kyiv after the recent launch of a counterattack by the Ukrainian Army and the reunion of lost territories with Ukraine. As the belief that Ukraine will prevail in the war grows, NATO’s self-confidence and its struggle against Russia increases. NATO’s renewed confidence against Russia and continuous expansion steps in the High North will provoke Russia even more.
The collective stance of NATO states reduces the options Moscow can use against the West. Looking for NATO’s weaknesses to attack, Russia may withdraw for a while to distract the West and try to create new crises in Asia if it fails in this goal.
[i]“Russia to Protect Interests in Arctic Amid NATO Presence Growth-Foreign Ministry”, Urdu Point, https://www.urdupoint.com/en/world/russia-to-protect-interests-in-arctic-amid-na-1558093.html, (Date of Accession: 13.09.2022).
[ii] “Top 10 Reasons Sweden and Finland Will Regret Joining NATO”, Cheerpost, https://scheerpost.com/2022/09/08/top-10-reasons-sweden-and-finland-will-regret-joining-nato/, (Date of Accession: 13.09.2022).