It seems like only yesterday when Vladimir Putin was saying that he has “no problem” with Finland or Sweden joining NATO and that such a move “would not pose a threat” to Russia. Actually, that was more than a month ago, but his tone changed a bit today. While NATO leaders were meeting in Spain, Putin announced to the media that if Finland and Sweden were to put any sort of NATO military assets in their countries near Russia’s border, he would have to “respond in kind” to “create the same threats” against them. Putin clearly doesn’t have any intention of turning down the temperature in the region, but his threat does raise another question. How many military assets does Russia have left to spare after pouring everything but the kitchen sink into Ukraine? (Associated Press)

Russian President Vladimir Putin is warning Finland and Sweden that if they welcome NATO troops and military infrastructure onto their territory, Russia will respond in kind.

He said Wednesday that Russia will have to “create the same threats for the territory from which threats against us are created.”

The two formerly nonaligned Baltic countries were formally invited Wednesday to join the Western military alliance.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the war in Ukraine has brought “the biggest overhaul of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War.”

To be fair to Putin, this isn’t actually a complete reversal of his previous position. Back on May 17th, all of the headlines focused on him saying he had “no problem” with Finland and Sweden joining NATO. But he did follow up that comment with a caveat. At the same event, he said that if Finland or Sweden became a “military threat” to Russia, he would “step up our military presence in the Baltics.”

Sweden is probably much less of a concern for Putin than Finland. The Swedes have stated repeatedly that even if they joined NATO, they had no intention of further militarizing their country and they would not welcome NATO missile installations or other offensive weaponry inside their borders. So in terms of Russia’s interests, Sweden becoming a NATO member is probably little more than a formality. Also, Sweden doesn’t share a border with Russia and you have to cross a fair amount of water to travel between the two countries. (Unless you go through Finland)

Finland is another matter, however. They share a huge border with Russia. Also, there is a crossing just to the east of Helsinki that takes you straight into St Petersburg. From there, you can follow one of the most direct (and well paved) available routes to Moscow in the event that anyone had to launch an invasion against the Russian homeland. And the Fins haven’t been nearly as clear as to how they might feel about new NATO military installations in their country should such an offer be made.

Meanwhile, back at the NATO conference in Spain, NATO leaders called Russia “the most significant and direct threat” facing the alliance today. That announcement came only shortly after Joe Biden announced his intention to “beef up” America’s force posture in Europe.

All of this activity was obviously coordinated and didn’t simply happen by accident. There seems to have been an agreement between the allies that there is no chance of a diplomatic resolution with Russia anymore. Their only hope now is to prevent Putin from expanding his attacks beyond Ukraine’s borders. Since the carrot didn’t work, it’s time to get out the stick. If the United States and the rest of NATO can show Putin that they are ready to fight and will be staging the forces to do so, that might deter him from further aggression. Just imagine if we’d done that back in January. This entire war might have been avoided.

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