Russia’s annexation of Crimea and what appears to be its provocation in eastern Ukraine has left many former members of the Soviet Union nervous. But the nerves aren’t limited to the traditional countries in Russia’s “near abroad,” many of whom have large Russian-speaking minorities that give them reason for concern. Now even Sweden and Finland seem afraid.
For Finland there’s reason to be concerned. At the tail-end of March, a former adviser to Vladimir Putin, told a Swedish newspaper that the Russian president had designs on Finland, which had been a part of the Russian Empire for more than 100 years. One Finish website reported that Russian troops had been conducting military exercises on the Finnish border, though there are now some credible signs that it could be a Russian disinformation campaign. It was also pointed that Russia has been setting fight planes training missions just outside the Swedish border last year: Missions that appeared to be designed to remind Sweden that Russia had the ability to attack its neighbors, if not the will.
The stories have caught a lot of attention and for good reason. A russian attack on Finland or Sweden would be extraordinary. However, I think it is unlikely. Russia’s action on Ukraine and Crimea was opportunistic, but the opportunity costs of a new unnecessary conflict far outweigh the benefits. Non-Alignment is an increasingly difficult position to have which is mostly why Sweden and Finland are now facing concerns over Russia, however, I think Russia is mostly sending an intimidation message to these countries, to prevent them from shifting their support to the west by for example, joining NATO. While we don’t know if Ukraine is going to lean pro-west or pro-Russia after Crimea. I think that it is clear that Russia’s actions have the intention of intimidating its neighbors under a covert conflict that looks very unstable.