Russia's foreign minister was addressing claims that Moscow only accelerated the accession of Finland and Sweden to the military bloc
Sweden and Finland have been a part of NATO in all but name for many years and, despite their declared neutrality, have played a notable role in the bloc's activities, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Monday.
Speaking during his visit to a Russian military base in Tajikistan, the minister dismissed the notion that Russia's military campaign in Ukraine resulted in NATO only growing in size. "Westerners say that Russian President [Vladimir] Putin wanted to prevent NATO expansion, but in fact he only sped it up. This is completely irrelevant," Lavrov insisted.
He went on to point out that while Finland and Sweden were not officially part of the US-led military bloc and "were neutral," "in practice, for ten years they have been actively participating in all of the alliance's activities," including military exercises.
Lavrov also noted that the two nations supported a program imposed by NATO on the EU that allows it to transport military hardware via the bloc's territory in the event of a conflict.
"Whether they host a military base or an air squadron is not that important. The important part is that they had long been under the US-NATO thumb," the minister emphasized.
Lavrov also stressed that as "a result of a war unleashed against us, [Russia] had no other choice except to protect its own security and the security of those people who are part of our history and culture."
Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO in May 2022 following the outbreak of the Ukraine conflict, ditching their decades-long neutrality. However, the accession process faced a number of hurdles, most notably Türkiye's demands that the two Nordic nations take a harsh stance towards Kurdish groups that Ankara deems terrorist.
In late March, Türkiye signaled it had no objection to Finland officially joining NATO. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan praised the "concrete steps" taken by Helsinki to address Ankara's concerns. Finland officially became the bloc's 31st member on April 4.
On the other hand, Türkiye has long criticized Sweden for making slow progress towards meeting its demands. However, last week NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg insisted that Stockholm had fulfilled its obligations regarding Ankara's security concerns and expressed hope that it would join the bloc in the near future.