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A police car patrols near to Saint Basil’s Cathedral on Red square in Moscow on Feb. 24, 2022.

A police car patrols near to Saint Basil’s Cathedral on Red square in Moscow on Feb. 24, 2022. (Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg)

BRUSSELS — Russia warned Finland and Sweden on Thursday that if they join NATO, Moscow will reinforce the Baltic Sea region, including with nuclear weapons.

The threat came a day after Finnish officials suggested the country could request to join the 30-member military alliance within weeks and as Sweden mulled making a similar move.

Helsinki and Stockholm are officially nonaligned militarily, but they are reconsidering their status in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — escalating warnings from Russia.

Dmitry Medvedev, a Putin ally who serves as deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said Thursday that NATO expansion would lead Russia to strengthen air, land and naval forces to “balance” military capability in the region.

“If Sweden and Finland join NATO, the length of the land borders of the alliance with the Russian Federation will more than double. Naturally, these boundaries will have to be strengthened,” he wrote on Telegram.

“There can be no more talk of any nuclear-free status for the Baltic — the balance must be restored,” Medvedev said.

His comments echo those of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov who told British media last week that if the two Nordic countries join NATO, Russia would be forced to “rebalance the situation.” He added, “we’ll have to make our western flank more sophisticated in terms of ensuring our security.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin used his opposition to NATO expansion as a pretext to invade Ukraine. His war there may now see the alliance jump from 30 to 32 members.

Adding Finland and Sweden to NATO would redraw northern Europe’s security picture, bringing the alliance’s border right to the more than 800-mile-long Finnish-Russian frontier.

A key tenet of NATOis Article 5, an agreement that an armed attack on one member will be viewed as an attack on all, with an obligation for mutual defense. In both Finland and Sweden that sounds increasingly appealing.

In both countries, Russia’s attack on its neighbor, Ukraine, has led to a sharp shift in public sentiment on NATO, with more people supporting membership.

Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin said Wednesday that her country was reviewing the decision but could move quickly.

“We have to be prepared for all kinds of actions from Russia,” Marin told reporters. “I won’t give any kind of timetable when we will make our decisions, but I think it will happen quite fast — within weeks not within months.”

Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats, who have traditionally opposed NATO membership, have also said they will be rethinking their position in the coming months.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels last week that both countries meet NATO standards and would be welcomed by members should they wish to join.

“There are no other countries that are closer to NATO,” he said.

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