Most of the Russian saber-rattling over Finland and Sweden applying to join NATO seemed to come to a halt this morning. After threatening “military-technical” action in response to any further expansion of the alliance along Russia’s western border, Vladimir Putin executed what appears to be an about-face on the topic while addressing a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Rather than talking about expanding the war beyond the borders of Ukraine, Putin said Russia has “no problem” with those states being accepted as members. He added some caveats after that which could produce additional tensions in the region, but for the most part, it sounded as if he has made his peace with the new state of affairs. Of course, we should keep in mind that Putin says a lot of things, only to turn around the do the exact opposite later. (Yahoo News)
For months, Russian officials have warned against the two countries taking this decisive step, but now that it has actually happened, Putin appears to be doing his best to diminish the significance of the act.
“As for the expansion of NATO, including through new members of the alliance which are Finland, Sweden — Russia has no problems with these states,” Putin said Monday at a summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a military alliance composed of several post-Soviet states…
“Expansion at the expense of these countries does not pose a direct threat to Russia,” he said.
Continuing on his theme of these developments being no big deal, Mad Vlad described the NATO expansion into Finland as being “artificial” and symbolic in nature. In the case of Sweden, he probably has a point, because the Swedes have repeatedly insisted that they were not going to militarize any further and would not welcome NATO missile installations or other offensive weaponry on their turf. Finland, on the other hand, already has plenty of military muscle of its own and hasn’t ruled out some NATO enhancements along those lines.
Upon being questioned further, however, Putin backtracked a bit. He said that in the event that either Finland or Sweden became a “military threat” to Russia, he would “step up our military presence in the Baltics.”
Is it possible that Putin is surrendering in the rhetorical war? Since the beginning of the invasion, he has publicly maintained that he was fully justified in invading Ukraine. He has also indicated that he wouldn’t hesitate to expand the conflict if it were in Russia’s best interests to do so. But now he’s indicating that having NATO literally parked on his western border on a permanent basis is not a concern.
Assuming this isn’t just a feint, there’s one very plausible reason why he might be having a change of heart. He can’t really claim to be ready to take on Finland, along with most of Europe and the United States, when he can’t even manage to conquer Ukraine. We’re coming up on the three-month mark in the war and Russia is on the verge of controlling less territory than when they started. It’s true that they’ve leveled much of the country with rockets, but they’re going to run out of those eventually. And if he starts firing missiles at Helsinki, Finland, along with anyone they have a “security agreement” with, will be perfectly entitled to start firing back. How much support will Putin retain at home if Moscow is on fire?
Putin’s plans have backfired and that’s quickly becoming obvious to everyone. We’ve been concerned for some time now that Russia didn’t have an “off-ramp” to end the invasion that the Madman of Moscow could live with. But is this really how it all ends? Can Putin really just declare victory and go home with nothing to show for it? If so, that would be about the best case scenario. But we would then still have to deal with the questions of war crime trials and reparations for all of the destruction in Ukraine.