By John Erath
Sometimes, seemingly little things can mean much.
On April 14, former Russian President turned Putin’s attack bear Dmitry Medvedev warned that Russia would deploy nuclear weapons to the Baltic should Sweden and Finland join NATO. At first, this would seem to mean little; Russia already has hundreds of nuclear weapons, especially nonstrategic weapons, around the Baltic coast and has for years resisted suggestions that it could remove them. In addition, Russia maintains thousands of strategic nuclear weapons that could strike the Nordic countries as well as anywhere else.
As Russia prepared its invasion of Ukraine, it made use of threats of nuclear consequences to dissuade other governments, particularly those of NATO allies, from aiding the victims. In this context, Medvedev’s most recent bluster can be seen as a sign of weakness, desperately trying to convince the Nordic neutrals that moving toward joining the Alliance will undermine their security. But given that the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic is already heavily militarized, and rife with nuclear weapons, the posturing from Moscow would seem to have little value.
There is, however, a big problem illustrated by this small threat. Once again, Putin’s government is using threats of nuclear weapons as an instrument of statecraft. Russia is not keeping nuclear weapons for the “fundamental purpose” of deterrence, but as a tool to achieve its near term foreign policy goals. Should this become normalized, it would bode ill for hopes of future arms control reducing numbers of nuclear weapons and the threat they pose. Nevertheless, that should remain a goal. The world will be safer with fewer nuclear weapons and with no further proliferation. The attempts of a declining power to retain legitimacy through nuclear blackmail should not be permitted to change this.