Latvia’s foreign minister has embraced Finland and Sweden’s plans to join the alliance
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics has said his country approves of Finland and Sweden joining NATO, noting that their addition to the alliance turns the Baltic Sea into “a NATO sea” in a Friday interview with the Financial Times.
Along with his counterparts in Estonia and Lithuania, Rinkevics expressed his eagerness to ratify the membership applications of the two Nordic countries. All three told the Times they would benefit from Finland and Sweden’s military strength, particularly Finland’s US fighter jet fleet.
Despite his unmitigated support for the accession of Russia’s northern neighbors to NATO, however, Rinkevics is hoping for more NATO troops in his country. The transformation of the Baltic into a NATO asset “does not change our demands for NATO increase in [the] Baltic region,” the FM said, adding that “there are still issues to be addressed” and that “the current security situation requires bolder plans by the alliance.”
While NATO sent 1,000 extra troops each to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania from European member states earlier this year, the countries have demanded more, calling for brigades of 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers and an air defense upgrade that would let them shoot down Russian planes in case of aggression.
Before the invasion of Ukraine, the Baltics claimed to be concerned about Russia potentially invading their region via the Suwalki gap, the comparatively short (65km) border region between Poland and Lithuania sandwiched between Belarus and Russia’s Kaliningrad province, also located on the newly-christened “NATO sea.” All three nations are reportedly increasing their defense spending to 2.5% of GDP, compared to the NATO requirement of 2%.
Russia warned on Thursday that Finland joining NATO would pose a direct threat and require a response from Moscow following the country’s announcement that it planned to seek such membership with an eye toward submitting a formal application as soon as next Monday. Finland shares an 833-mile (1,340-kilometer) land border with Russia and while Helsinki has admitted that its neighbor poses no direct threat, membership in the bloc represents a direct escalation, placing a hostile alliance directly on Russia’s border.
Sweden reportedly plans to make its own formal request to join NATO next week, though some factions of the government are more enthusiastic than others regarding the prospect.