Russia has warned Finland and Sweden against joining Nato. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that “the alliance remains a tool geared towards confrontation”.
in February Maria Zakharova, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, warned of “military and political consequences” if the countries joined.
Regardless both countries have pushed ahead with their bids and stepped up defence spending.
On Monday, army leaders in Helsinki announced a new plan to allocate €14m (£10.88m) to purchase drones for Finland’s military.
And last month Swedish officials said they would boost defence spending by three billion kronas ($317m; £243m) in 2022.
It comes as Russian ally Serbia took the delivery of a sophisticated Chinese anti-aircraft system in a veiled operation this weekend, amid Western concerns that an arms build-up in the Balkans at the time of the war in Ukraine could threaten the fragile peace in the region.
Media and military experts said on Sunday that six Chinese Air Force Y-20 transport planes landed at Belgrade’s civilian airport early on Saturday, reportedly carrying HQ-22 surface-to-air missile systems for the Serbian military.
The Chinese cargo planes with military markings were pictured at Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla airport. Serbia’s defence ministry did not immediately respond to AP’s request for comment.
The arms delivery over the territory of at least two Nato member states, Turkey and Bulgaria, was seen by experts as a demonstration of China’s growing global reach.
“The Y-20s’ appearance raised eyebrows because they flew en masse as opposed to a series of single-aircraft flights,” wrote The Warzone online magazine. “The Y-20’s presence in Europe in any numbers is also still a fairly new development.”
“Demonstration of force”
Serbian military analyst, Aleksandar Radic, said that “the Chinese carried out their demonstration of force”.
Serbian president, Aleksandar Vucic, all but confirmed the delivery of the medium-range system that was agreed in 2019, saying on Saturday that he will present “the newest pride” of the Serbian military on Tuesday or Wednesday.
He had earlier complained that Nato countries, which represent most of Serbia’s neighbours, are refusing to allow the system’s delivery flights over their territories amid tensions over Russia’s aggression on Ukraine.
Although Serbia has voted in favour of UN resolutions that condemn the bloody Russian attacks in Ukraine, it has refused to join international sanctions against its allies in Moscow or outright criticise the apparent atrocities committed by the Russian troops there.