Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu issued a threatening warning against NATO on Tuesday as Finland officially joined the alliance and expanded the network.
Finland and Sweden, which had previously opposed joining the military bloc, decided to do so after Russia’s murderous invasion of Ukraine and its increasingly belligerent language towards European nations opposed to the illegal war.
NATO membership means that Helsinki now enjoys the alliance’s full protection should Russia attack Finland. Article 5 of the NATO Charter states that an attack against one member will trigger all members’ responses.
But despite Moscow’s direct influence on the Helsinki decision, Shoigu claimed on Tuesday that the move could lead to fresh hostilities.
He reportedly informed top military brass, “The North Atlantic bloc is reinforcing its anti-Russian course, which is leading to an escalation of the conflict,” according to a statement from Euromaidan Press.
In order to improve the combat capability of the Joint Armed Forces, NATO is ramping up its training and reconnaissance operations close to the borders with Russia and Belarus.
Shoigu pointed to NATO’s expansion as a member, the US pledge of another $2.6 billion in military equipment on Tuesday, and moves to send warplanes to Ukraine, prompting Moscow to look increasingly to its only regional ally: Belarus.
He assured them there was a chance this will escalate the war significantly, but it won’t change the outcome of the special operation. “Under these circumstances, we are responding with retaliatory measures to protect the safety of the United States of America.”
Shoigu said Russia began training Belarusian troops on Monday in ballistic missile systems along with aircraft capable of deploying nuclear missiles.
In addition, he claimed that the Iskander missile system, which had been in their possession for months, had been “handed over” to the Belarusian forces, according to reports dating back to December.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also declared late last month that a storage facility for deployable tactical nuclear weapons using the missile system would be completed by July 1 in Belarus.