If Russia attacked Sweden or Finland for joining NATO, the United Kingdom would come to Stockholm’s defense, the U.K.’s defense minister said today.
“We have a 10-nation security” arrangement with all the Nordic countries and the Netherlands, Ben Wallace said at a Washington Post online forum. He added that the arrangement was “a recognition things were getting worse” in relations with Moscow following the 2014 Russian seizure of Crimea and its backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Relations have not improved since, as the presidents of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia said in March. In addition to calling for a greater forward presence of NATO ground and air forces, they were welcoming Swedish and Finnish partnerships as alliance members in securing the Baltic.
As to whether this arrangement included providing Sweden and Finland the U.K.’ “nuclear umbrella,” Wallace said London’s policy is one of “strategic ambiguity” when it comes to use of these weapons.
Wallace said threatening retaliation against the two neutral Nordic nations is having the “opposite effect” that Russian President Vladimir Putin intended. “He never understood [that Sweden’s and Finland’s parliamentary movements to join NATO] is of his own making” with the invasion of Ukraine.
Wallace said “we shouldn’t be surprised” by the latest threats of retaliation from the Kremlin, including the use of nuclear weapons, against its neighbors.
Because an “escalate to de-escalate” use of tactical nuclear weapons is in Russian military doctrine, “we should always take the threat seriously.” Wallace cited the Kremlin’s use of nerve agents in attacks on perceived enemies living in the U.K. shows the lengths Moscow will take to get its way. The fact is, “NATO outmatches him [in military capability and capacity]. I don’t think he wants to” use weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine.
Wallace said Putin “was being true to form” in his presidency, especially since the “color revolutions” in the 2000s that toppled regimes still favoring Moscow in former Soviet Republics. Putin went on an “escalatory trajectory,” threatening Baltic NATO members and nations he associated “with the ancient Rus people” if they didn’t return to Russia’s orbit when he was re-elected in 2018. Putin would have continued the aggressive moves that he first used in 2008 against Georgia “if we hadn’t done anything,” Wallace argued.
The Kremlin leadership “all had an errant assumption” that NATO was “brain dead” and the alliance was weak militarily, he added.
Arguing Putin was “focused on his legacy,” Wallace said the Kremlin leader expected Russian forces entering any of those countries to be welcomed. “Ukraine has been the buffer for him,” with its stiff resistance and military and economic support from other European nations.
While Wallace did not directly answer a question over Kyiv attacking military targets in Russia, he said, “Ukraine is perfectly within its rights to defend itself” as the war is becoming one of attrition. To aid Kyiv in this phase, he added that the U.K. and the United States are sending in advanced artillery and air defense systems to blunt new Russian offensives in the east and south.
“The next step is training” the Ukrainians in their proper use and “to make sure there is no collateral damage,” Wallace said. He said he did not regard this new aid as escalating the fighting, as the Kremlin appears to be doing in attacking civilian targets. The more sophisticated air defenses are supposed to make “it harder to fly” to those targets.
As to whether Ukraine should receive Russian-built fighter aircraft and helicopters from NATO members, Wallace said London has none in its arsenal. “That’s a good example of calibration” in providing short-range air defenses and unmanned systems to Kyiv. “It doesn’t mean fixed winged aircraft,” he said.
Looking at the stalled invasion in the war’s first phase and the Ukrainians holding fast in the east now, Wallace said of Russia’s top military leadership: “I think a lot of guys will be sacked.” He added, “there is no candor upwards” in Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s Minister of Defense since 2012, or Gen. Valery Gersimov, the Kremlin’s senior military officer, explaining military realities to Putin. Wallace said this is a hallmark of a “regime run by fear.”
The results, he said, is “the poor old soldier is turned into cannon fodder,” and there will be a price paid by senior officers, as has historically been the case in the Russian and Soviet armed forces.