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Recent comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin amount to little more than posturing after a disastrous campaign in Ukraine, but any comment from a world leader with a nuclear arsenal should be taken seriously, military experts told Fox News Digital.
“I think when Putin says stuff like this, all he does is really kind of reinforce the point that [Russia’s] not really responding to a legitimate external threat,” James Carafano, Vice President of The Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation, said.
Finland and Sweden reversed historically neutral positions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, explaining that the “security landscape” in Europe had changed. Turkey said it would not support either country’s bid to join the alliance, which would effectively block their entry since any applicant requires full support from native members.
But Turkey on Tuesday said it would now support the bids after reaching an “agreement” that “paves the way for Finland and Sweden to join NATO,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed.
Putin on Wednesday said that Sweden and Finland could “go ahead” and join NATO, but warned that Russia would “respond in kind” if either country hosted the alliance’s military forces or infrastructure.
“I’m not sure I would read anything strategic into it because on its face: It’s a completely ridiculous statement,” Carafano said. “I don’t think you can really read anything strategic into it.”
Carafano explained that establishing any such infrastructure would take “months or even years” to complete, and the two countries already cooperate with NATO allies even if they aren’t currently members.
“Finland and Sweden already cooperate and integrate its stuff with the U.S. military, so the notion that any NATO member would allow an outsider like Russia to dictate what kind of deployment infrastructure could be in a NATO territory is just laughable on its face,” Carafano said.
Carafano suggested that Putin could have intended the comments sarcastically, but that “only Putin knows what Putin is going to do.”
“The guy’s pretty much a dictator, and he has an arsenal of nuclear weapons and a military, so I would never say, ‘Oh, geez, he’ll never do that,’” Carafano added. “But if you look at this consistent pattern of Russian behavior, where they have been threatening all kinds of things – everything from implying nuclear exchanges to military activity – in the end, all the Russians have done is annoy.”
James Anderson, acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy under President Trump, argued that Putin needs to save face after causing two neutral countries to join the NATO alliance thanks to his invasion of Ukraine.
“[The Russian people] see – and he no doubt fears they see – his aggressive actions in Ukraine have driven historically neutral countries to seek membership [in NATO],” Anderson said. “In a strategic sense, Putin’s invasion has made Russia as a whole less secure – not only because of the fact that the invasion did not go well, but now NATO is poised to grow.”
Anderson called Putin’s recent comments efforts to “reframe” the course of the war and its outcomes, calling Sweden and Finland’s efforts to join NATO “strategically significant.”
“All one has to do is look at the map to see that [Sweden and Finland] are in a geographically important position on the northern flank: It will become easier for NATO to operate in the Baltic Sea,” Anderson explained. “It will also complicate to an extent Moscow’s Arctic strategy.”
“Within NATO, there’s an East-West divide: You have countries that are closer to the border, including Poland, the Baltics … who more directly feel the threat of the Russian bear,” he added. “I think both Helsinki and Stockholm are doing this given what Russia has done in Ukraine and what they fear Putin may do in the future. They want that NATO Article Five guarantee – and who can blame them?”