Baltics at risk in Russia-Nato power game over Ukraine

Video transcript - Professor Stefan Hedlund

Why do the Baltic states matter so much to Nato and Russia?

Professor Stefan Hedlund:

Well, the Baltic states are not primary in the conflict. The primary issue in the conflict between Russia and Nato is Ukraine. But the Baltic states feel that there is a substantial risk that Russia will escalate asymmetrically, that is, that if Mr Putin feels that he is being cornered in Ukraine he may lash out by moving on the Baltic states to force the hand of Nato.

And this is something that is taken extremely seriously in the Baltic states. They are preparing, at least mentally and militarily as well, for a Russian full scale ground invasion, so the matter is very serious.

How likely is Nato membership for Sweden and Finland?

Professor Stefan Hedlund:

While Nato membership for Finland and Sweden would be a tremendous change to the security situation in the Baltic because it would sort of stabilise the front line between the Baltic states and Russia but its not very likely to happen.

Finland is becoming increasingly interested in joining, but Finland will not join if Sweden does not join. And Sweden has a decade-long phobia against joining Nato, because the neutrality policy is deeply ingrained in almost all the political parties.

It has changed a little after the invasion of Ukraine.But I would still say its very, very unlikely that Sweden will join and then Finland will not join either.

How would an end to Sweden and Finland's neutrality impact on Baltic security?

Professor Stefan Hedlund:

Well if Finland and Sweden were to join Nato it would create a substantial boost in the security for the Baltic states. The problem - not so much for Lithuania, which is to the south, which may be defended by Nato from Poland, but a country like Estonia which is wedged in the northern periphery between Russia and the neutral countries Sweden and Finland - if Nato is to intervene to support Estonia against Russian aggression, Nato will not arrive on location until it is a 'fait accompli' i.e. Nato would have to intervene to dislodge a Russian occupier rather than meet a Russian attacker.

If Finland and Sweden had been members of Nato the equation would have been very different, it would have meant that with very early signs that the attack was imminent from the Russian side, Swedish and Finnish forces could have been on location quickly enough to defend Estonia against invasion rather than arriving late and dislodging a Russian occupier.

And that is no small difference, and this is why there is so much resentment in the region at Sweden in particular being so recalcitrant and absolutely refusing to contribute its share to creating security.

What is the likelihood of Russia attacking the Baltic states?

Professor Stefan Hedlund:

The likelihood, and this is very easy for me to say, that Russia is going to actually attack and invade countries like Estonia and Latvia, I would say is very, very small, but that looks very differently from their horizon where they have the Russian troops on their borders.

A situation where it could arise is if matters really escalate in Ukraine and, as is now becoming increasingly likely, the Americans start supplying weapons to the Ukrainian army, that might create the situation where Russia retaliates against Nato by moving on another frontline i.e. moving to destabilise or possibly even invade Estonia.

It's a very unlikely scenario but it's taken very seriously by these very small nations that are incredibly vulnerable, and if they take it very seriously then Nato as a whole will have to take it very seriously, so it is part of the overall equation.

(photo credit: dpa)