Sweden, a peaceful little Scandinavian country of just 10 million inhabitants, is making Vladimir Putin shake in his boots.
In fact, late last year, the Russian president threatened “a military response” if Sweden were to dare to “cross the line” and join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Not that the long-neutral Nordic nation — which has not been involved in a single war for more than two centuries — currently has any intentions of joining the 29-country alliance.
But that hasn’t stopped Putin from trying to intimidate Stockholm into steering clear of the military pact born out of the 1948 Treaty of Brussels.
And Sweden, concerned that the Russian leader’s successful 2014 expansionist annexation of Crimea and encroachment into Donbass might inspire him to make a move on its national territory, announced in March that it would restore the military draft citing Moscow’s “aggression in Ukraine” as well as the growing number of Russian “exercise activities” in its neighborhood.
Always the bully, Putin responded by flexing his military muscles at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June by issuing a warning to Stockholm that if it should decide to cozy up to NATO, there could be “dire consequences.”
Although former KGB operative was intentionally vague in his threats against Sweden, he did state that any decision by the Scandinavian country to join NATO would be interpreted by Moscow as an act of aggression against the Russian regime.
As such, he said, it would “have a negative impact on relations with Russia,” which would be forced to find ways to “eliminate that threat through additional security measures.”
“This does not mean that we will be swept up into hysteria and point our nuclear missiles at Sweden,” he said.
“But we will have to do something about it because we would consider it as an additional threat.”
After his not-so-veiled portent of aggression against Sweden, Putin tried to play the role of wise counsel, cautioning that should Sweden think it would be better protected as a member of NATO, it was sadly mistaken.
Not only would NATO membership not enhance Sweden’s military capabilities, he said, but it would, in fact, “limit its sovereignty in decision-making … because NATO member states cannot make decisions in relation to such issues as the deployment of military infrastructure to their territory.”
Meanwhile, Sweden, which is a member of the European Union and cooperates closely with NATO, is so far sticking to its guns on nonalignment.
When presented with a government-commissioned report late last year on the possible advantages of joining NATO, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstroem shrugged it off, saying that, at least for now, the country would maintain its policy of neutrality.
But that hasn’t dissuaded an imperious Putin from trying to badger Stockholm into distancing itself from NATO.
And, if the theory of reverse psychological has any validity, Putin’s hauteur might just push Sweden straight into the arms of the North Atlantic Alliance.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.