A close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that Russia would deploy nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles in the Baltic Europe region if Sweden and Finland joined NATO. Dmitry Medvedev the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council said that if the two nations join NATO then Russia would have to strengthen its land, naval, and air forces in the Baltic Sea. Adding that the Kaliningrad exclave, which is nestled in between Poland and Lithuania, could not be part of a “nuclear free” Baltic if they did join. “There can be no more talk of any nuclear-free status for the Baltic – the balance must be restored,” said Medvedev, who was Russian president from 2008 to 2012. Finland and Sweden are considering joining the NATO alliance as support levels have risen since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Finland will decide in the next few weeks, Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Wednesday.
However, while Medvedev made these threats, Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas said that Russia already has nuclear weapons in the Baltic region, on Thursday. He reportedly said that nuclear weapons have been deployed in Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave on the Baltic Sea since before the current crisis. told Lithuania’s BNS wire. “Nuclear weapons have always been kept in Kaliningrad … the international community, the countries in the region, are perfectly aware of this … They use it as a threat.”
“The current Russian threats look quite strange, when we know that, even without the present security situation, they keep the weapon 100 km from Lithuania’s border,”
In 2018 Russia said Iskander missiles had been deployed to Kaliningrad, which was captured by the Red Army in April 1945 and ceded to the Soviet Union at the Potsdam conference at the end of World War II. The Iskander is a short-range tactical ballistic missile system that can carry nuclear warheads. Its official range is 500km but some Western military sources suspect it may be larger.
CIA Director William Burns said that the threat of Russia potentially using tactical or low-yield nuclear weapons in Ukraine cannot be taken lightly, but the CIA has not seen a lot of practical evidence reinforcing that concern, also on Thursday. He spoke at Georgia Tech of the “potential desperation” and setbacks dealt to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose forces have suffered heavy losses and have been forced to retreat from some parts of northern Ukraine especially in the Kyiv Oblast after failing to capture the capital of Kyiv. He continued that despite the “rhetorical posturing” by the Kremlin about putting the world’s largest nuclear arsenal on high alert, “We haven’t seen a lot of practical evidence of the kind of deployments or military dispositions that would reinforce that concern.” Tactical and low-yield nuclear weapons refer to those designed for use on the battlefield, of which some experts estimate Russia has about 2,000 that can be delivered by air, sea, and land.
Support for joining NATO has skyrocketed in Finland and Sweden, two countries that have had a very different history with Russia. Finland gained independence from Russia in 1917 and fought two wars against it during World War II, losing some land in the process. Sweden has not fought a war for 200 years and its foreign policy has focused on supporting democracy and nuclear disarmament. On Thursday, Finland announced a military exercise in Western Finland with the participation of Britain, the United States, Latvia, and Estonia.