European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has voiced the bloc's readiness to defend Finland and Sweden in the event of a Russian attack even before the two countries become NATO members.
Borrell made the remark during a meeting of Europe's defense ministers in Brussels on Tuesday, as he welcomed the two Nordic countries' decision to join the US-led NATO military alliance amid the raging war in Ukraine.
He stated clearly that if Russia were to attack Finland or Sweden as they await joining NATO, they could invoke a joint defense clause in the EU treaty "obliging" other member states to help them by all means, referring to Article 42.7 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty.
"If a state is attacked in its territory, if there is an armed attack against a member state of the European Union, this state can ask others to help it. And the others are obliged to do so with all its means. No more no less," he said.
Finland and Sweden have formally applied to join the NATO alliance, despite Russia's stern warnings against the US-led military alliance's eastward expansion. The applications must now be weighed by the 30 member countries. That process is expected to take about two weeks.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has already said a bid by Finland and Sweden to join NATO poses no direct threat to his country, but Moscow will respond if the US-led alliance bolsters military infrastructure in the two Nordic states.
Fabrice Pothier, a political analyst at Rasmussen Global, said Putin was not too concerned by Finland and Sweden's decision to join NATO. "Clearly, Moscow has taken a pretty mild approach to the thing. I mean, they have obviously said they were unhappy about it," Pothier told Euronews.
"They had threatened to take some military-technical measures, but the bottom line is they have accepted the political decision. What they will not accept, and I think Putin is trying to draw a red line here, is any kind of NATO capability of forces being deployed on their territory," he said.
Moscow has long expressed grievances to the US about NATO's eastward expansion, and says Washington has repeatedly ignored the Kremlin's concerns about the security of its borders in the West.
Putin has on several occasions cited the post-Soviet expansion of the NATO alliance eastwards toward Russia's borders as a reason for its military offensive against Ukraine. Key to its list of security demands from the West prior to the operation in Ukraine was a guarantee that Kiev never join NATO.
The Russian leader declared a "special military operation" in Ukraine in late February. The US and its allies have stepped up military support for Ukraine, sending an array of sophisticated weapons meant to hold off Russia's rapid advances. The operation has also drawn unprecedented sanctions from the US and its European allies.
Putin has repeatedly warned that such a flow of weapons to Kiev will prolong Russia's operations. But Western states have vowed to continue their military and defense assistance for "as long as necessary.”
The latest development comes as EU has also said it will provide another €500 million in financial support to Ukraine's military, bringing the total value of the bloc's overall military funds for the country to €2 billion.