Russia is no longer head of the Soviet Union, but that doesn’t mean that Moscow and NATO are not locked in a new cold war that may be endangering two nations which have historically remained neutral.

Officials in Sweden and Finland are concerned about Russia’s increased aggressiveness in eastern Europe, and while both countries have a sort of special relationship with NATO, neither is an actual member — meaning they would have to counter a Russian invasion on their own.

As noted by Azita Raji, the former U.S. ambassador to Sweden (2016-2017), Russia is now in a new cold war with Scandinavia as well. She writes:

While they no longer assert their neutrality as they did during the Cold War, the Swedes and Finns are finding it hard politically at home to challenge the perceived benefits of nonalignment. They seem to be playing it safe, with one foot in the NATO camp and the other—even if lightly set down—outside it. But for all the talk of neutrality, Sweden and Finland are as militarily capable as some NATO allies and enjoy a privileged relationship with the alliance.

The peril in this is Russia’s growing ire at the increasingly close relationships among the Swedes, the Finns and NATO. Russia has warned both nations of harsh consequences if they join the alliance. This ought not be dismissed as idle blather: Mr. Putin has sent aircraft close to the Swedish border to run practice strikes on Stockholm. Swedes and Finns suffer Russian cyberattacks, overflights and misinformation campaigns meant to destabilize their governments.

It’s no wonder Sweden and Finland feel more vulnerable than they did during the Cold War. No longer effectively neutral nor members of a broad military alliance, they are subject to Russia’s belief that they side with NATO. Swedes and Finns have responded robustly to Russian aggression. They have boosted military spending and signed a mutual-support agreement with each other.

Both countries were alarmed when Russia ‘invaded’ Ukraine — first by taking control over the Crimea, home to the Black Sea Fleet, then by all but invading eastern Ukraine — which also used to enjoy a special relationship with NATO. However, since Ukraine was not yet a member, there was no mutual defense treaty Kiev could rely on for assistance. Finland and Sweden are now in facing the same predicament, especially as Russian forces mass for large-scale war games that are slated to begin next week. In the past Russia has used exercises to launch invasions.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Why it’s on our radar: Sweden and Finland have a stronger military relationship with the U.S. than either had during the Cold War. And though neither is yet a NATO member, the Russians are aware that the U.S. would not sit by and allow either country to be invaded.

Still, without formal membership, the feeling of vulnerability persists and the example of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 are stark reminders of what could happen if Vladimir Putin decides it’s in Moscow’s best interests to bring Finland and Sweden under Russian control by force and that NATO — and the U.S. — will do little more than protest it through diplomatic channels, rather than risk a nuclear war.