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Russia 'forced to deploy nukes on Europe's border' as Ukraine pushes invaders back
16 May 2022, 10:28 | Updated: 16 May 2022, 17:09
Vladimir Putin will be forced to deploy tactical nuclear weapons if Nato establishes bases in Sweden and Finland, Russian state TV has declared.
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The two Nordic countries look set to renounce decades of military neutrality and join the defensive alliance, which has triggered outcry from Moscow.
The addition of both nations to Nato would represent Putin's worst nightmare - an expansion of the military alliance to his borders - and it would follow a series of battlefield setbacks in Ukraine.
He has tried to justify his invasion of Ukraine and destabilisation of eastern Europe as a counter to Nato's addition of ex-Soviet states and former Warsaw Pact members, demanding the alliance effectively withdraw to its position before the mid-1990s.
After Putin said Finland was making a mistake joining the alliance, Russian TV said: "Their official reason is fear. But they'll have more fear in Nato.
"When Nato bases appear in Sweden and Finland, Russia will have no choice but to neutralise the imbalance and new threat by deploying tactical nuclear weapons."
It is part of a desperate bid to threaten Sweden and Finland about joining Nato. They look set to apply for membership after the invasion of Ukraine horrified leaders and their people.
Russia shares an 800-mile border with Finland, a former duchy that the old Russian Empire absorbed.
Previously, Nato's only border with Russia was a smaller one, with Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia all neighbouring it, and Poland sharing a border with Russia's Kaliningrad exclave.
Seeing two larger countries, one sharing a large frontier with Russia, would be completely counter to Putin's aims when it came to invading Ukraine.
Finland's president Sauli Niinistö called Putin to tell him his country was aiming for Nato membership.
"The conversation was direct and straight-forward and it was conducted without aggravations. Avoiding tensions was considered important," President Niinistö said.
Russian TV's chilling threat follows former president Dmitry Medvedev's remarks in April about the prospect of Swedish and Finnish accession to the alliance.
"There can be no more talk of any nuclear–free status for the Baltic - the balance must be restored," said Medvedev, a close ally of Putin's.
"No sane person wants higher prices and higher taxes, increased tensions along borders, Iskanders, hypersonics and ships with nuclear weapons literally at arm's length from their own home.
"Let's hope that the common sense of our northern neighbours will win."
Russia has been pushed back from Kharkiv, Ukraine's strategically important second city in the east, not far from the two countries' border.
The regional governor, Oleh Sinegubov, said Ukrainian forces had even managed to push to the border, and put back a marker there.
"We are proud of the soldiers... who restored the border sign on the state border!" he said on Telegram.
"We thank everyone who, risking their lives, liberates Ukraine from Russian invaders."
A win in Kharkiv would be another important victory for Ukraine, which has already succeeded in repelling invaders from taking the capital Kyiv.
It forced Russia into a humiliating retreat and abandoning their bid to overthrow Volodymyr Zelenskyy's government in a rapid drive to the capital.