Russia supplies Finland with small amounts of gas and oil, but Finland was already preparing to cut off these supplies in line with European Union decisions to reduce dependence on Russian energy. A possible first response came on Saturday with the announcement by Russian state company RAO Nordic that it has halted electricity exports to Finland, although it is not clear whether this decision was intended to be a punishment. Russia blamed Western sanctions for the move, saying they made it difficult for Russia to receive payments for the supplies.
Finland ignored the action. Finnish officials said they had already reduced imports of Russian electricity to guard against possible attacks on the country’s infrastructure, and Russian electricity accounted for only 10% of its consumption.
Russia could attempt to launch cyberattacks against Finnish infrastructure or conduct hybrid warfare in an effort to sway Finnish public opinion, but Finland has highly developed systems capable of countering such efforts, the general told the retired Pekka Toveri, former head of the Finnish army. intelligence.
“They actually don’t have much to use to threaten us,” Toveri said. “They have no political, military or economic power.”
Finland’s move, expected to be officially announced on Sunday, upsets the balance of power along NATO’s northern borders. In the next few days, Sweden is expected to follow Finland’s example and apply for NATO membership as well. But it is Finland’s membership that will have the greatest impact on Russia, serving to double the size of Russia’s land border with NATO and entirely encircle its three ports on the Baltic Sea.
For decades, Finland refrained from joining NATO for fear of provoking its larger nuclear-armed neighbor. And Russian President Vladimir Putin had fueled those fears with vague threats of war and menacing acts of harassment in Finnish airspace and waters.
The invasion of Ukraine reversed this calculation, prompting the Finns to conclude that they would be safer under the protective umbrella of NATO than left alone to face Russia. Before the war, only 20% of Finns supported NATO membership. In May, this figure had reached 76%.
The Finns also concluded that the Russian military‘s unexpected performance and setbacks on the battlefield in Ukraine suggest it no longer poses the threat it once did, Toveri said.
“Russia is so weak now that it could not risk another humiliating defeat,” he said. If Russia tried to send troops to Finland “in a few days, they would be wiped out. The risk of a humiliating defeat is high, and I don’t think they can take that.
For the Kremlin “this is a really ironic moment,” said Lauren Speranza, director of transatlantic defense and security at the Center for European Policy Analysis. Preventing NATO enlargement was one of Putin’s stated goals in attacking Ukraine, which was seeking NATO membership. Finland and Sweden had not – until the invasion of Ukraine, she noted.
From neutrality to NATO: how Finland and Sweden moved in the face of Russia’s invasion
“Not only did Putin have a huge failure on his military goals in Ukraine, but he also expanded NATO, which was the exact opposite of what he wanted,” Speranza said. “It underscores what a huge strategic miscalculation this was.”
Already, Moscow seems to be reducing its threats of retaliation. In a phone call on Saturday, Putin told Finnish President Sauli Niinisto that Finland’s decision to join NATO was “wrong” and could have “a negative effect” on Russian-Finnish relations – but he didn’t. made no specific threats, according to a reading from the Kremlin.
Niinisto, who made the call, bluntly told Putin that it was above all his ‘massive invasion’ of Ukraine that prompted Finland to seek protection from the NATO security alliance , according to a statement from his office.
“The conversation was direct and direct and it went without escalation. Avoiding tension was considered important,” the statement read.
In the weeks before Finland’s announcement, Russian officials had warned of serious repercussions, including the deployment of nuclear weapons in the vicinity and the sending of military reinforcements to Finland’s border.
They have since been more circumspect, saying Russia’s response will depend on how far NATO goes toward establishing a presence on the Russian border.
The decision will force Russia to come up with a “political reaction”, Russian media said on Saturday quoting Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko – a step back from the “military and technical” response threatened by the door-to-doorman on Thursday. word of the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov.
He also said it was “too early to talk about the deployment of nuclear weapons in the Baltic region” and added that “Moscow will not be guided by emotions” in deciding its response. .
Russia will conduct a “thorough analysis” of any new configuration of forces on its border before deciding on its response, he said, echoing Peskov’s comments that the degree of Russian retaliation will depend on the amount of NATO military infrastructure that will be established on Russia’s borders.
No decision has been made on what type of presence NATO will establish in Finland and Sweden once their membership is formalized, which could take several months. A new snag emerged in the form of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s objection to their membership on the grounds that Sweden is hosting members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.
How adding Finland and Sweden would change NATO
But it is highly likely that Finland’s membership will not require a large NATO troop presence, analysts say. Finland has a robust and well-equipped army which has conducted regular training exercises with NATO countries. Its army is already well integrated into NATO’s military systems.
The threat to Russia’s strategic interests is so great that Moscow will be forced to take some form of action against Finland, said Dmitry Suslov of the Higher School of Economics at the National Research University in Moscow.
At a minimum, he said, Russia will need to bolster its military presence along Finland’s border because Finland will no longer be considered a “friendly” country. It will also have to strengthen its naval presence in the Baltic Sea which will become, he said, “a NATO lake”.
If the United States or Britain establish bases in Finland, Russia will have “no choice but to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to target those bases”, Suslov warned.
Finland is preparing for further action, former Finnish general Toveri said, if only because Putin might feel the need to save face. But Finns have grown accustomed over decades to living with potentially hostile power on their borders and do not feel unduly threatened, he said. “We are used to the fact that the Russians are there. Most Finns aren’t too worried about this.