The three Baltic states have hailed Sweden and Finland’s expected accession to Nato as dramatically improving their own security and ability to repel any attack from Russia.
The foreign ministers of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania told the Financial Times they would seek to ratify any membership application from Finland and Sweden as quickly as possible.
Finland’s president and prime minister said on Thursday that the country “must apply” within days. It is expected to do so, along with Sweden, as the Nordic nations draw conclusions from Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine, which is not a member of the western defence alliance.
“The Baltic Sea becomes a Nato sea,” said Edgars Rinkēvičs, Latvia’s foreign minister. His Lithuanian counterpart Gabrielius Landsbergis said in a separate interview: “It’s a very clear message that the northern part of Europe is Nato territory. For all practical, political and security perspectives, it would be safer.”
The Baltics have long worried about Finnish and Swedish islands in the Baltic Sea potentially being used as bases to attack them. Russian TV has periodically discussed the idea of an invasion starting on the Swedish island of Gotland, dubbed by many military analysts as an “aircraft carrier in the middle of the Baltic Sea”.
The Baltic ministers said both they and Nato would benefit from Finland and Sweden’s strong militaries and Finland’s fleet of US fighter jets, as well as the alliance’s collective defence pledge for both nations.
“Finland is fully interoperable with Nato armed forces, as we have experienced in joint international missions. This accession means that Nato itself will be significantly strengthened and, at the same time, it would also reinforce the security environment in northern Europe and the Baltic Sea region,” said Eva-Maria Liimets, Estonia’s foreign minister.
However, the Baltic leaders stressed that their welcome for the Nordic nations’ expected applications did not undercut their demands for Nato to increase its presence in their own countries. Rinkēvičs and Landsbergis agreed with Kaja Kallas, Estonia’s prime minister, who on Thursday said Nato’s current proposals for reinforcing the defence of the Baltics were not enough.
All three nations want Nato to boost its multinational battle groups in each from battalions of about 1,000 troops to brigades of 3,000-5,000. They also want the Baltic air policing mission to be upgraded to air defence, giving it the capability to shoot down any potential Russian intruders in their airspace.
The latest development “does not change our demand for Nato increase in Baltic region,” Rinkēvičs said. “There are still issues to be addressed. The current security situation requires bolder plans by the alliance.”
Landsbergis said Nato must ensure there was “a very clear consensus that every inch of Nato territory will be defended”, as opposed to the alliance’s previous plan based on potentially losing the Baltics and repelling Russia from Poland and the rest of Europe.
Lithuania’s foreign minister noted that to come close to matching Russia’s strength in the region, Nato needed to deploy more troops in the Baltics.
But, he added: “For quite a while there was a discussion on how the Baltic region would be defended in case of a Russian attack. It was agreed it was not that easy. From a strategic standpoint the accession of Sweden and Finland changes the situation.”
Source: Financial Times