Russia has gone on the offensive in the Baltic, warning Denmark that if it joins Nato’s missile defence shield, its navy will be a legitimate target for a Russian nuclear attack.
“I don’t think that Danes fully understand the consequence if Denmark joins the American-led missile defence shield. If they do, then Danish warships will be targets for Russian nuclear missiles,” said Mikhail Vanin, the Russian ambassador to Denmark, to the Jyllands-Posten newspaper.
“Denmark would be part of the threat against Russia. It would be less peaceful and relations with Russia will suffer. It is, of course, your own decision I just want to remind you that your finances and security will suffer. At the same time Russia has missiles that certainly can penetrate the future global missile defence system,” Mr Vanin said.
Denmark’s Foreign minister, Martin Lidegaard, reacted strongly to the comments, calling the ambassador’s statement “unacceptable”.
“If that is what he has said, then it is unacceptable. Russia knows full well that Nato’s missile defence is defensive and not targeted at (Russia). “We disagree with Russia on many important issues, but we also cooperate, for example, in the Arctic and it is important that the tone between us does not escalate,” said Mr Lidegaard.
The ambassador’s statements came shortly after Denmark’s military published details of encroachments or near-encroachments of Danish airspace. The military said that it had scrambled its F-16 squadrons 58 times in 2014 to head off Russian aircraft, twice the number counted in 2012. Russian military aircraft have the habit of switching off their transponders as they approach the western Baltic in a manoeuvre that is seen as dangerous to civilian air traffic, but prevents them being identified other than by sight.
Mr Vanin’s statements also come eight months after Denmark announced it would take part in Nato’s missile defence system. Denmark has said that it will install special radar systems on one or more of its frigates, in order to become an integral part of the system.
But Nicolai Wammen, the Defence minister, has been at pains to calm Russia, saying that the move is not targeted at Russia, but at “rogue states, terrorist organisations and others who would have the capacity to fire missiles at Europe and the United States”. Nevertheless, Mr Vanin made it clear that Russia feels that NATO is encroaching on its borders.
“Denmark is a small country with a small army. OK – you are part of Nato, but a very small part. Moscow will not appreciate you joining the missile defence system – or any of the other countries that take part. It will escalate a situation that is already tense and will make things even worse,” he said.
“I cannot imagine the Cold War coming back again; but there are some who feel that Nato is moving closer and closer to the Russian border and strengthening its position. That creates insecurity in Russia,” he added.
In follow up statements that will worry the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in particular, Mr Vanin went on to say that from being one of the most peaceful parts of the world a year ago, the Baltic is now “one of the most unpredictable in the world”.
Germany, Poland, Lithuania, the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Sweden and Denmark all border the Baltic Sea. Six of them are Nato states. The three formerly Soviet Baltic states, now all members of Nato and the European Union, have repeatedly expressed their concern at their own situation, not least because as with Ukraine, both Estonia and Latvia in particular have large Russian populations and fear Russian encroachments. As events in Ukraine have developed, and the Minsk Agreements remain to be fully implemented, the three Baltic states have been among the hawks in the EU and Nato, calling for increased sanctions against Russia.
“Why believe the hysteria that Lithuania is Russia’s next target? It’s just an example of very bad theatre. The only people it is good for is the weapons producers,” said Mr Vanin.