Sweden and Finland could join NATO while Russia suffers a great tragedy in Ukraine

They are known for being neutral, but it looks like this is about to change in a big way, and Russian President Vladimir Putin is not happy.

Ukraine has destroyed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ability to take control of northeastern Europe. But Sweden and Finland still fear a Russian attack.

Over the last decade, the threat of invasion has hung over the Baltic states of Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

Putin’s threats have not been ignored.

Indeed, his belligerence prompted the redeployment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which he claimed was the “security threat” that prompted his unprovoked attack on Ukraine.

It is a symbolic force.

But it is also a demonstration of NATO’s willingness to stand up for its members.

And that protection suddenly seems very attractive to Finland and Sweden, both nations that remained neutral throughout the cold war. Finland also borders Russia on its entire eastern side.

“Before Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, the issue of NATO membership was hardly part of the political debate in Finland and Sweden,” says European Council on Foreign Relations co-chair Carl Bildt.

“In response to Russian aggression, both countries are reassessing their security policies, and the pursuit of NATO membership is rapidly emerging as the most realistic option.”

It is not what Putin wants to hear.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko responded to the talks by saying Moscow “will be forced to take such security and defense measures as we deem necessary” in response.

Last week, the Russian frigate Neustrashimy tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in the Baltic Sea. And the enclave of Kaliningrad between Poland and Lithuania was practicing mobilization exercises.

But such a signal is more likely to convince Finland and Sweden of Russia’s hostility than to deter any decision to join NATO.

And that’s even considering that Russia’s military could soon be a depleted force.

Analysts put Russia’s losses at about 25 percent of its entire invasion effort. Ukraine goes so far as to claim that 60 of the 120 Russian battalion tactical groups (BTGs) deployed in February have “become ineffective”.

Putin defaced

On Wednesday, Putin threatened to react with “lightning-fast” force if NATO intervened in Ukraine.

“[Countries] who get it into their heads to meddle in ongoing events from the sidelines and create unacceptable strategic threats to Russia, they should know that our response to counter-punches will be very swift. We have all the tools for this that no one else can boast of having,” the Russian leader warned.

But aside from its nuclear arsenal, it no longer has much to brag about.

Ukrainian authorities claim to have destroyed some 940 Russian main battle tanks, 190 planes, 160 helicopters, 420 artillery pieces and eight ships.

These numbers cannot be confirmed.

Other estimates put the figure at 571 tanks, 26 planes and 38 helicopters.

“Some units are much more devastated than others,” a senior Pentagon official said. “We have seen indications of some units that are literally, for all intents and purposes, eradicated. Nothing remains of the BTG except a handful of troops and perhaps a small number of vehicles. They will have to be reconstituted or reapplied to others.”

This week, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the White House expects to see “Russia weakened to the point where it can’t do the kinds of things it has done by invading Ukraine.”

Some military analysts say that is already the case.

Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) adviser Mark Cancian said The times in London that Russian losses are equivalent to two years of tank production, one year of aircraft deliveries and several years of missile manufacturing.

And the open-source research unit Bellingcat estimates that Russia has already spent about 70 percent of all its available precision-guided missiles.

Then there is the human cost.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov admitted that Russia has experienced “a great tragedy” with “significant troop losses.” He did not say how many.

Estimates of Russian troop casualties vary wildly, from Moscow’s 1,500 to Ukraine’s 21,000. In any case, many of these are from “elite” units, such as the paratroopers who failed to take Hostomel airport in the early days of the war.

Such loss of accumulated experience and training cannot be quickly replaced.

Especially when it comes to the 10 generals Russia has lost so far.

A force to be reckoned with

Sweden and Finland have already taken sides.

Both have delivered a significant amount of weaponry, including 10,000 anti-tank guns, to Ukraine.

But his move to join NATO comes as a surprise.

During the Cold War, both nations felt that any open loyalty to the West would make their position even more precarious.

“[The] official policy was one of strict military non-alignment, but [Sweden] it also made hidden preparations to cooperate with the US and NATO in the event of war,” writes Bildt.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, both Sweden and Finland joined the European Union.

But none felt the need to join NATO.

Now they do.

“The Russian Invasion of Georgia [in 2004] it revealed that its threshold for the use of military force to pursue its political goals was substantially lower than many had thought, and a distinctly revisionist tone began to appear in Moscow’s political pronouncements,” says Mr Bildt.

But the direct invasion of Ukraine in February changed everything.

“The Russian leader and his acolytes have made it clear that they want to replace the post-1989 security order in Europe with arrangements that affect the sovereignty of other countries,” it says.

And that “political earthquake” has prompted Sweden and Finland to urgently reassess their security situation.

Your neighbor is giving you real cause for concern.

“The Putin regime, whether he or one of his associates is in charge, is unlikely to give up its imperial ambitions while it remains in power,” says Bildt. “It is impossible to predict what kind of country Russia will be in the coming decades, but a country that is weaker in economic and military terms and more desperate and dangerous in political terms is likely to emerge.”

bordering on madness

Putin says the invasion of Ukraine was to neutralize “a real danger of… a big conflict that would have played out on our territory according to other people’s scripts.”

Exactly what form that “real danger” takes appears to be associated with vague accusations of “expansionism” by NATO.

Putin may be referring to the 4,600 troops NATO sent to Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland in 2017. It was a response to the Russian leader’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.

“These forces are a defensive and proportionate deterrent force, fully in line with NATO’s international commitments,” NATO said. “They send a clear message that an attack on an ally would be answered by troops from across the alliance.”

If Putin sought to nullify any threat from NATO, he achieved the opposite.

“Following Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, the allies agreed to establish four more multinational battle groups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia,” a NATO statement read.

This brings the total number of units to eight, spaced evenly along NATO’s eastern flank, from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south.

It is nothing like the forces that Moscow has deployed against them.

But if Sweden and Finland join, the balance will change significantly.

“Each country brings considerable military capabilities to the alliance: Finland maintains a very substantial reserve army, and Sweden has strong air and naval forces, in particular submarine forces,” says Mr Bildt. “Integrated control of the entire area will facilitate the defense of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as Swedish territory and airspace, in particular, are important for such efforts.”

A spent force?

A single Russian BTG – They are supported by 10 main battle tanks, 46 armored fighting vehicles, 15 artillery vehicles, 10 air defense vehicles, and dozens of trucks containing everything from jamming equipment and drones to fuel and mobile kitchens.

In January, Russia had 168 BTG in total. And these are just your mobile armored warfare units. Russia has many other military formations to fall back on.

About 120 BTGs were deployed on the border with Ukraine. Some 76 of these units are currently fighting in the Donbas region.

Moscow says it is mobilizing 10 new battalion tactical groups and strengthening those that have suffered losses. Doing so will involve new recruits, reactivated retirees, and old combat gear pulled from reserve.

This will take time.

The equipment needs to be renewed. Troops need to be trained. Combat operations must be practiced.

And morale is an important consideration.

Putin’s troops have been showing signs of losing the will to fight.

Ukraine was not the ride they were promised. Others reportedly did not even know they were going to war.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that 60 paratroopers have been jailed for refusing to return to the front lines. And an elite Spetsnaz special forces unit is also said to have rioted after being maimed fighting in Mariupol.

And evidence of self-sabotaging vehicles and equipment is a favorite topic of Ukraine’s social media campaign.

That may be why the Russian president keeps alluding to the use of his nuclear force.

It’s the only ace he still has up his sleeve.

“We will not brag about it: we will use them if necessary, and I want everyone to know that. We have already made all the decisions about it.”

Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel

Leave a Comment