JAKARTA - Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday his side saw no threat to Moscow if Sweden and Finland joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
However, President Putin firmly warned that he would respond decisively if the US-led alliance supports military infrastructure for the new Nordic members.
Previously, President Putin, Russia's supreme leader since 1999, has repeatedly cited the expansion of the post-Soviet NATO alliance eastward towards Russia's borders as the reason for the Ukraine conflict.
But Putin, who in recent months has rattled Russia's nuclear arsenal in the West over Ukraine, made a very calm response to Finland's and Sweden's offer to join NATO, the biggest strategic consequence of Russia's invasion of Ukraine to date.
"Regarding expansion, Russia has no problems with these countries - nothing. So in this case there is no direct threat to Russia from (NATO) expansion to include these countries," President Putin said at a meeting of the alliance of former countries. Soviet Union, reported Reuters 17 May.
"But the expansion of military infrastructure to the region will certainly provoke our response. What is it? We will see what threats it creates for us," he told the leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which includes Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan. , Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Speaking at the Grand Kremlin Palace, President Putin read out a brief speech alluding to NATO and rebuking the United States for creating a biology laboratory in the former Soviet Union.
President Putin said Russia had evidence the United States had tried to manufacture biological weapons components in Ukraine, a claim Washington and Kyiv deny.
In addition to NATO's "policy of endless expansion," Russia's president said the alliance was reaching far beyond Euro-Atlantic authority, a trend he said Russia was following closely.
The Kremlin leader's remarkably calm response to one of Russia's most sensitive geopolitical concerns, the post-Soviet expansion of NATO, contrasts with some of the harsher language of the Foreign Ministry and its senior allies.
Before he spoke, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the West should have no illusions, Moscow will only put up with NATO's Nordic expansion. The comments are still playing on state television.
Meanwhile, one of Putin's closest allies, former President Dmitry Medvedev, said last month Russia could deploy nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad if Finland and Sweden joined NATO.
The West says NATO, an alliance of 30 countries including former Warsaw Pact republics such as Poland and Hungary and nuclear powers such as the United States, Britain and France, is purely defensive.
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