Russia ‘unlikely’ to risk military confrontation in Sweden, Finland

Vital infrastructure is vulnerable to Russian covert hybrid warfare operations in the Nordic countries, says Finnish politician.

Russia ‘unlikely’ to risk military confrontation in Sweden, Finland

With the threat from Russia appearing closer and closer to Northern Europe, Sweden and Finland believe that Kremlin is already engaged in a hybrid war that will hit the Scandinavian countries hard.

Alleged sabotage of the Russian-owned Nord Steam gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea, as well as illegal drone flights over strategic areas in Norway by a Russian national, are seen as part of President Vladimir Putin's war against the Scandinavian countries.

Russia's war on Ukraine that began on Feb. 24 prompted Sweden and Finland to rethink their security arrangements and apply for NATO membership, despite Moscow's threats.

Magnus Petersson, a professor of international relations at Stockholm University, told Anadolu Agency that the military threat towards Finland and Sweden is "much lower now" than it was when Russia initially attacked Ukraine in February.

Likewise, Henri Vanhanen, the foreign policy adviser to Finland's National Coalition Party, which holds the third-most seats in parliament, told Anadolu Agency that Moscow is currently "struggling" in its effort "to occupy Ukraine" and that most of its military, defense resources, and capabilities were engaged in the ongoing war.

So, he argued, Russia is unlikely to risk a major confrontation with NATO and go down the path of escalation.

This would be "a completely different war than what we're seeing right now," he said, adding that such escalation would raise the risk of nuclear warfare "at some stage and I don't think the Russians are willing to go down that path."

Russia could 'sabotage critical infrastructure'

Vanhanen said the Nordic countries are vulnerable to Russian covert hybrid warfare operations and that Kremlin is likely to sabotage critical infrastructure, including food and water distribution, electricity, logistics and communications.

"Now, those are sort of the backbone of every single developed society and if you want to sabotage these functions, it will cause upheaval and uncertainty in a society," said Vanhanen.

According to Vanhanen, this is the Kremlin's method of trying to cut off Western military aid to Ukraine, which has played a "decisive" role in Ukraine's efforts to repel "Russia’s illegal attack."

Finland, which shares a border with Russia longer than 1,300 kilometers (over 800 miles), has increased its monitoring of maritime traffic and infrastructure, while Norway and Denmark tightened security around its gas and oil sites.

According to NATO, hybrid warfare has long been used to destabilize adversaries, however with technological growth their speed scale and intensity advanced over the years.

It said earlier this year that “Counter-hybrid support teams” would provide assistance to allies but it also said that countries are expected to protect themselves individually.

Military threat

Moscow has threatened multiple times that Swedish and Finnish NATO membership would be detrimental to their security and that of Europe.

"I think we have worked with these threats for a long time," said Petersson.

According to the professor, Russian threats have led Western countries, including Sweden and Finland, to expand their defense budgets. He, however, argued that Moscow would only use covert methods against the two countries such as “cyber-attacks, using propaganda on the internet, and so on, and so forth.”

Norway announced earlier this week plans to step up its military preparedness in response to the Russia-Ukraine war and the "serious security situation in Europe."

"We are in the most serious security policy situation in decades," Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said in a statement.

Vanhanen suggested that Finland is well-prepared against all manner of threats, including military ones.

"We are well-prepared for different scenarios, even though we might not consider them likely at the moment," he said.

Store stressed that there was no indication that Russia would expand its warfare to other countries, but that the increased tension meant "we are more exposed to both threats, intelligence and influence."

Terrorism threats

Once in NATO, Finland and Sweden should adopt a more comprehensive approach on different kinds of threats, including terrorism, Vanhanen said, referring to a recent trilateral deal with Türkiye.

Türkiye, a longstanding member of NATO, has voiced objections to the membership bids of both countries, criticizing them for tolerating and even supporting terror groups.

"I think both countries have heard Turkey, both countries are willing to follow through on the agreement that was agreed upon in Madrid on trilateral cooperation on counterterrorism," Vanhanen said.

Both before and after joining NATO, it will be important to update counter-terrorism legislation and give government officials more tools to tackle potential terrorism movements, "especially when it comes to the ones that Turkey has mentioned, for example, the PKK," he said.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Türkiye, the EU, and US, and is responsible for the deaths of 40,000 people, including women, children, and infants.

The trilateral agreement that the countries signed in June stipulates that Finland and Sweden will not provide support to the YPG/PYD, the PKK's Syrian offshoot, and the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), the group behind the 2016 defeated coup attempt in Türkiye. The deal also said Ankara extends full support to Finland and Sweden against threats to their national security.

All 30 standing NATO allies need to approve any expansion of the bloc.

Russia views NATO expansion as threat

After years of Swedish and Finnish neutrality, NATO expansion on Russia's doorstep has triggered strong warnings from Moscow that their memberships could have "serious military and political consequences."

Putin has even demanded in the past that NATO should pull back from all former-Soviet countries and that no new countries should join the bloc.

In response to the move, it promised to "restore military balance" by strengthening its defense posture in the Baltic Sea region, including by deploying nuclear arms.

Earlier this year, Russian officials said NATO's willingness to accept Sweden and Finland was "destabilizing" and that it would increase tensions in the region.