Hallå, NATO?

Russia’s increasingly aggressive military posture has Swedes thinking of abandoning their two-century old tradition of neutrality and joining NATO:

Swedish officials have repeatedly accused Russian planes of threatening the country’s airspace, and several eastern European nations, including Sweden and Latvia, have suspected Russian submarines have entered their sovereign waters. Sweden’s military dispatched fighter jets in May to ward off Russian bombers that approached Swedish territory, Reuters reports.

Traditionally, Swedish citizens have expressed little interest in joining NATO, but recent tensions with Russia have stoked support. An October 2014 poll found that 37 percent of the nation’s population supported entrance into the alliance, while 36 percent of those surveyed opposed the move, Reuters reported.


Russia of course is none too happy with any of this:

Sweden will face military “consequences” if it decides to abandon its trademark neutrality and join the NATO alliance, Russian Ambassador Viktor Tatarintsev reportedly told a Swedish newspaper Thursday.

If countries were individual human beings, the conversation between Russia and Sweden would go like this:

Russia: Your neutrality is no protection!

Sweden: Maybe we should give up being neutral…

Russia: You’ll regret that!

I’m not going all Godwin on you with “PUTIN IS HITLER!” stuff, but Putin reminds me of Hitler in one small, limited way. Hitler in the beginning was great at the small picture stuff, knowing he could throw the dice on reoccupying the Rhineland, Anschluss with Austria, demanding the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia.

What Hitler sucked at was the really big picture stuff — how to end a war with Great Britain, what to do if the Soviet Union couldn’t be defeated in three months, figuring out what an alliance with Italy and Japan was actually good for.

Sure, he could unleash his Panzer divisions on Poland and France and score two big knockout wins in very short order, but he never seems to have contemplated the potential consequences of stirring up the entire world against Germany.

Putin has used eastern Ukraine to redefine the parameters of warfare as major nation-states have waged it since 1939. This has kept the West off balance and Ukraine at a convenient simmer, without forcing it the boil over into an all-out war Moscow can’t afford.


What Putin hasn’t figured out is how to bring the war in Ukraine to a successful conclusion, which might explain his big military buildup in the Kaliningrad Oblast wedged in between Poland and Lithuania:

“They’re making quite big military exercises in the Kaliningrad district [which is] very, very close to our neighborhood,” says Andrius Kubilius, a former Lithuanian prime minister. “So of course we are worried about such military developments very close to our borders.”

In part due to such concerns, NATO this month is carrying out military maneuvers in Poland and the Baltic States, a U.S. military convoy recently travelled across Eastern and Central Europe in a show of the defense alliance’s commitment to protect the region, and Washington is reportedly debating whether to store heavy military equipment in several Baltic and Eastern European countries bordering Russia.

The Kaliningrad region, which lies along the Baltic Sea in what was once East Prussia, has long held strategic value.

The plan seems to be to keep NATO off balance. Or maybe Putin is preparing for a real shooting war with the West. It’s impossible to say.

And then there’s the never-ending bluster:

Politicians and officials are in on the act, setting the tone with tough talk about Russia’s military and suggesting that, if it wanted to, Russia could turn up the heat in what many are calling a new Cold War with the United States and Europe.

“Tanks don’t need visas,” Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin proclaimed on national television in May as Western politicians expressed concern at Russia’s military buildup in the Arctic.


“Tanks don’t need visas” is an awesome tough-guy movie line — you can hear Arnold saying it, easy.

But eventually Punt has either got to start shooting, or the bluster and saber-rattling will go on so long that NATO (and neutrals like Sweden) will have to take his threats seriously — and take some kind of action greater than economic sanctions.

At that point, who knows what a short-sighted dice-tosser like Putin might decide to do.

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