December 17, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Putin warns ’there will be problems’ with Finland after its accession to NATO

Institute for the Study of War

Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened Finland and the wider NATO alliance in a statement ostensibly meant to dismiss concerns about the threat that Russia poses to NATO. Putin gave an extended interview with Russian state TV channel Rossiya 1 on December 17, wherein he attempted to deny US President Joe Biden’s December 6 warning that Russia would attack a NATO country in the future if it won the war in Ukraine. Putin argued that Russia does not have any geopolitical, economic, military, or territorial reason to fight NATO and that Russia is interested in developing relations with NATO member states. Putin followed this supposed reassurance with an accusation that NATO member states artificially created conflict between Russia and Finland and “dragged“ Finland into the NATO alliance. Putin stated that “there will be problems” with Finland and that Finland’s NATO accession prompted Russian officials to start forming the Leningrad Military District (LMD) and concentrating military units in northwestern Russia. The Russian military is currently redividing the Western Military District (WMD) to reform the LMD and the Moscow Military District (MMD) as part of a long-term restructuring and expansion effort that aims to prepare Russia for a potential future large-scale conventional war against NATO. The WMD is responsible for the Russian border with NATO members Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland but has largely been committed to the fight in Ukraine, where it has incurred significant losses. The restoration of the LMD and MMD is likely intended to balance Russian operational requirements in Ukraine with Russian military posturing along the Russian border with NATO. Putin’s justification for the formation of the LMD, which will be responsible for an area bordering Finland, Sweden, and the Arctic, suggests that he sees the LMD as a military response to the “problems” of current and future NATO members in Scandinavia.

Putin’s reassurances about his peaceful intentions toward NATO ring hollow in the context of the threats he and Kremlin pundits have recently been making against NATO member states. Putin threatened Poland on July 21, stating that Russia would respond “with all the means” at its disposal after Warsaw sent troops to the Belarusian-Polish border due to the redeployment of Wagner Group fighters to Belarus. Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev threatened on August 29 that Russia had “an opportunity to act within the framework of jus ad bellum against everyone in NATO countries” when commenting on Western support of Ukrainian strikes on occupied Crimea. Medvedev similarly threatened Poland in November when he stated that Russia deems Warsaw to be a “dangerous enemy” that could lose its “statehood.” A Russian propagandist suggested on Russian state TV on December 2 that Baltic states would be Russia’s next military target and that they would fall shortly after Ukraine. Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov, Medvedev, and other pundits consistently threaten to use nuclear weapons against the United States and other NATO countries. These threats are part of long-standing Russian narratives about attacking NATO that predated Finland’s application and acceptance into the alliance on April 4. The statements of Russian pundits do not pose a military threat to NATO countries, to be sure, but they are important context for Putin’s ostensible effort to calm the waters during his December 17 interview. Putin’s proclamation that Russia has no interest in invading NATO is also very similar to the Kremlin’s persistent claims in late 2021 and early 2022 — including right up to the eve of the invasion — that Russia did not intend to invade Ukraine. The interview was likely a deliberate attempt to reamplify the Kremlin’s efforts to misrepresent the Russian military threat as an imaginary and artificial NATO invention.

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened Finland and the wider NATO alliance in a statement ostensibly meant to dismiss concerns about the threat Russia poses to NATO.
  • Putin’s reassurances about his peaceful intentions toward NATO ring hollow in the context of the threats he and Kremlin pundits have recently been making against NATO member states.
  • Putin has been seeking to curtail and weaken NATO for two decades and continually demands changes to the alliance that would amount to dismantling it.
  • Putin’s interview indicated that he continues to perceive the West as weak, contrasting with his confidence in the growth of Russia’s power over the past two decades.
  • Putin is increasingly invoking a purposefully broad, vague, and pseudo-realist conception of Russian sovereignty in an effort to justify Russian goals to impose Putin’s will in Ukraine and beyond.
  • Putin continues to express a world view in which Russia must impose its will without any compromise or face existential consequences.
  • The Kremlin’s repeated rhetoric about its hostile intent towards NATO, coupled with Russia’s potential future military capabilities in the event of Russian victory in Ukraine, poses a credible – and costly – threat to Western security.
  • Russian forces conducted a series of missile and drones strikes against Ukraine on the night of December 16 to 17.
  • Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, near Avdiivka, west and southwest of Donetsk City, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia on December 17 and advanced in some areas.
  • Relatives of Russian mobilized personnel continue to appeal directly to high-ranking Russian military and political officials about demobilization and the return of their relatives from Ukraine.
  • The Kremlin continues attempts to expand political infrastructure in occupied Ukraine in an effort to further integrate occupied territories into Russia.

For full report:  https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-december-17-2023

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