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Russia’s Objection to Sweden and Finland’s NATO Memberships: Is It Just About the Baltics?

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In his speech at the Moscow International Security Conference held on August 16, 2022, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced that they would reconsider their country’s capabilities in defending its territory in the Baltics and the Arctic.[1] On August 18, 2022, the Moscow administration announced that they had deployed 3 warplanes carrying «Kinjal» hypersonic missiles to Kaliningrad, Russia’s only piece of land in Europe, as part of strategic deterrence measures.[2] Undoubtedly, this indicates that tensions in the Baltics will rise even more.

As it is known, after Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, Sweden and Finland abandoned their neutrality policy for many years and applied for membership to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In this sense, the process carried out regarding the NATO membership of the Stockholm and Helsinki administrations causes Russia to deepen its threat perceptions. Because Russia already thinks that NATO is trying to surround itself over the Black Sea.

In this sense, it can be said that the admission of Romania and Bulgaria to NATO in 2007 created a geopolitical trauma for Moscow. As a matter of fact, with the memberships in question, the Kremlin has reached the conclusion that NATO has reached the last limit to which it can advance in the former Eastern Bloc countries. For this reason, the Moscow administration describes NATO’s expansion moves in the close vicinity of Russia as «a reason for war». Therefore, Russia intervened in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine in 2014 and 2022.

Although the discussions over the aforementioned countries are mostly related to the wider Black Sea geopolitics, the Kremlin administration is concerned that the siege will be extended to include the Baltic geography, because of the membership of Sweden and Finland. If aforementioned states would be members of NATO, there is the possibility of establishing NATO bases in these countries. This would mean that the West would operate in the Baltic Sea. Undoubtedly, these possibilities are extremely disturbing for Russia.

It should be emphasized that; a security dilemma arises in the region. Because the basis of Sweden and Finland’s tendency towards the Atlantic Alliance is the threat perceptions of these states regarding Russia. States that think that Russia may be the next target of attacks after the war in Ukraine, while trying to become a member of NATO; Moscow also considers this membership status as an extension of the siege imposed on it.

Moreover, it is not just about that. Because as a part of the security dilemma, there is a possibility of militarization of the Baltic geography. To open this issue, in response to the bases to be established in the aforementioned countries after NATO membership, the territory of Russia on the coast of the Baltic Sea; that is, the possibility of militarizing by deploying nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad is a scenario that cannot be ignored. As a matter of fact, during the exercise it held in Kaliningrad in May 2022, Russia gave a message about this by using a nuclear attack simulation.[3] Moreover, the Kremlin administration has already deployed warplanes capable of carrying hypersonic missiles to the region. This reveals that an arms race has started in the region and indicates that the race in question may get out of control. In other words, there is a fragile security ground in the Baltic geography. This fragility brings with it the risk of conflict.

Moreover, the Moscow administration considers NATO’s warm welcome to Sweden and Finland memberships, with the Arctic dimension, and believes that the United States of America (US) is trying to realize an «Arctic Expansion» through the alliance. Because new waterways are formed in parallel with global warming and due to its rich natural resources, it is not surprising and even expected that the Washington administration makes some moves to increase its influence in the Arctic region. This, in turn, threatens Russia’s national interests in the Arctic geopolitics, which is also heavily emphasized in its new naval doctrine.

According to the aforementioned doctrine, Russia defines Arctic geopolitics as one of the priority areas of national maritime policy. Besides the rich underground resources of the region, the Northern Sea Route is also one of the issues that Moscow cares about. Because this route attracts the attention of global actors as it will shorten the transportation costs and time. For this reason, the Moscow administration, which wants to be a great naval power, attaches great importance to the control of waterways.

In the context of the control of waterways, Moscow, which advocates that the influence of the US; therefore, NATO in the Arctic remain at a minimum level, tries to maintain its presence in the region with the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf discussions due to its interests in the region. As a matter of fact, it is noteworthy that Russia’s new naval doctrine emphasizes the aim of increasing naval activities in land areas located close to the Arctic, such as Spitsbergen, Franz Josef Land and the Novaya Zemlya archipelago, and Wrangel Island. Among the mentioned islands, there are places under the sovereignty of Norway such as Spitsbergen, which cannot be ignored. Considering the fact that Norway is a NATO member, the discomfort caused in Russia by the process regarding the membership of Sweden and Finland is much better understood.

In short, the Kremlin administration is concerned about the increase in the influence of NATO and therefore the US in the Arctic geography through the membership of these countries, and considers it a threat to its own national security.

As a result, the Moscow administration is extremely uncomfortable with the geopolitical choices of Helsinki and Stockholm, since the developments over the process of Sweden and Finland’s membership to NATO affect the balance of power in the Arctic geography and include the new waterways dimension, especially the Northern Sea Route. Therefore, as Shoigu pointed out, it is preparing to reconsider the possibility of defending its territory in the Baltics and the Arctic. Considering the emphasis on the North Pole in the statement of the Russian Defense Minister, it can be said that Arctic geopolitics has become the new playground of the global power struggle. In other words, it can be argued that the issue is not limited to the Baltics.


[1]“Россия пересмотрит условия безопасности на Балтике”, Lenta, https://m.lenta.ru/news/2022/08/16/gffgu/amp/, (Date of Accesion: 18.08.2022).

[2] “Rusya, Stratejik Caydırıcılık İçin “Kinjal” Füzelerini Uçaklarla Kaliningrad’a Gönderdi”, Anadolu Ajansı, https://www.aa.com.tr/tr/dunya/rusya-stratejik-caydiricilik-icin-kinjal-fuzelerini-ucaklarla-kaliningrada-gonderdi/2664046, (Date of Accession: 18.08.2022).

[3] Köksal Akpınar, “Avrupa’nın Ortasında Rus Toprağı: Kaliningrad”, TRT Haber, https://www.trthaber.com/haber/dunya/avrupanin-ortasinda-rus-topragi-kaliningrad-678442.html, (Date of Accession: 18.08.2022).

Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN
Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN
Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN, 2014 yılında Gazi Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Yüksek lisans derecesini, 2017 yılında Giresun Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda sunduğu ‘’Uluslararası Güç İlişkileri Bağlamında İkinci Dünya Savaşı Sonrası Hegemonik Mücadelelerin İncelenmesi’’ başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Doktora derecesini ise 2021 yılında Trakya Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı‘nda hazırladığı “İmparatorluk Düşüncesinin İran Dış Politikasına Yansımaları ve Milliyetçilik” başlıklı teziyle alan Başaran’ın başlıca çalışma alanları Uluslararası ilişkiler kuramları, Amerikan dış politikası, İran araştırmaları ve Afganistan çalışmalarıdır. Başaran iyi derecede İngilizce ve temel düzeyde Farsça bilmektedir.