Asked in May whether Finland and Sweden joining NATO presented a threat to Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “Definitely. NATO expansion does not make our continent more stable and secure.”
Experts debate the extent to which Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was actually about NATO. Many believe that it was in fact the expansion of the European Union that the Russian president feared most: the prospect of increasingly impoverished Russian citizens seeing another former Soviet neighbor thriving as part of the Western bloc.
Here too his war appears to have backfired. Last week Ukraine was granted candidate status for the E.U., starting a process that could take years or even decades.
Putin also openly stated his revanchist, imperialist goals, declaring that Ukraine was not a real country and making the ahistorical suggestion that it should be subsumed back into mother Russia.
Nevertheless, many experts say NATO’s likely enlargement is a huge blow for the Russian president, not only symbolically but practically. It means that there will be no more areas in northern Europe where the alliance has to ask permission to cross, making planning exercises and deployments easier.
Finland and Sweden both have well-drilled, well-equipped armies and “will improve NATO’s capabilities in the Arctic region,” said Ben Hodges, former commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe who is now an analyst at the Center for European Policy Analysis think tank.
“This is the direct result of a colossal strategic mistake by Vladimir Putin, whose unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has reminded all of Europe that security and stability are not to be taken for granted.”
Patrick Smith contributed.