Moscow is set to take “adequate countermeasures” to oppose military threats near its western borders posed by Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership, says Russia’s defense minister.
In a speech on Friday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that “tension continues to grow in the zone of responsibility of the Western Military District. We are taking adequate countermeasures.”
According to the RIA news agency, Shoigu said his government would respond by forming 12 new units in its western military district and would improve the combat strength of its troops.
Finland and Sweden formally applied to join the NATO alliance on Wednesday.
President Vladimir Putin warned earlier this week that Moscow would respond if the alliance boosted military infrastructure in the two Nordic states.
Applying the first round of countermeasures, Moscow has decided to block the flow of gas to neighboring Finland on Saturday morning.
In a statement on Friday, Finnish state-owned gas wholesaler Gasum announced that “on the afternoon of Friday, May 20, Gazprom Export informed Gasum that natural gas supplies to Finland under Gasum’s supply contract will be cut on Saturday 21 May at 04.00 (GMT).”
However, the company assured its customers that it won’t disrupt the gas transmission network and that supplies will continue from other sources through the Balticconnector pipeline in the coming months.
“We have been carefully preparing for this situation and provided that there will be no disruptions in the gas transmission network, we will be able to supply all our customers with gas in the coming months,” Gasum CEO Mika Wiljanen said.
Meanwhile, Shoigu laid the responsibility for regional tensions on the US door and said Washington has stepped up its strategic bomber flights in recent years, sent warships to the Baltic Sea, and intensified training exercises in the region with its NATO partners.
In the meantime, US President Joe Biden has supported Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership, saying that the two Nordic countries will have the “full, total, complete backing” of the US for their application to join the military bloc.
In a meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in Washington, Biden claimed that “new members joining NATO is not a threat to any nation.”
“The bottom line is simple, quite straightforward,” he said, adding, “Finland and Sweden make NATO stronger, not just because of their capacity, but because of their strong democracies and a strong united NATO is the foundation of America's security.”
Their applications are “a watershed moment in European security,” the US president said, noting, he was sending paperwork to Congress Thursday to facilitate ratification of their bids.
Despite Turkey’s rejection as a member of NATO, the two Nordic states are insisting to join the western alliance. All 30 NATO members should unanimously agree for the two historically neutral countries to join the alliance.