Russia’s warnings and threats to Finland and Sweden have not stopped since they expressed their desire to join NATO. This Friday it was the turn of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who announced the location of twelve new military bases by the end of the year in the western part of the country. He stressed during a meeting with the leadership of his department that the Helsinki and Stockholm decision “poses a growing military threat near our western borders.”

“By the end of the year, twelve military units and divisions will be created in the Western Military District,” Shoigu declared. In his words, such a measure “will be synchronized with the supply of more modern weapons and military equipment to the troops (…) they are expected to receive more than two thousand units of new types of weapons.”

In his opinion, “the verifications carried out have shown a qualitative increase in the level of training of the Western District units by 25% compared to last year.” The Russian Defense Minister also referred to the “42% increase in the intensity of the combat training missions of the Baltic Sea Fleet ships” and 4% in the case of air attack exercises.

At the same time, Shoigu pointed out that in the last eight years, after the annexation of Crimea and the first war in Donbass, “the number of US strategic bomber flights in Europe has increased 15-fold, from 3 to 45 per year, and the entry of US ships equipped with guided missiles into the Baltic Sea has become systematic.

The senior Russian military officer also indicated that, in 2022, near the Kaliningrad region (former Königsberg), where the Russian Baltic Sea Fleet is anchored, the Americans “simulated combat tasks on six occasions with access to areas within the range of action of their cruise missiles. And, since 2016, 24 such events have been detected by our target control system.”

Shoigu insisted that “the United States and NATO are increasing the scope of combat and operational training near Russia’s borders.” He cited in particular the Defender of Europe exercises, in which, according to his information, “up to 40,000 soldiers from 30 countries participate” and whose objective, he added, consists of “transferring a US division to European soil for deployment in three strategic directions: the Arctic, the West and the Southwest. Therefore, he concluded, “tension continues to grow in the Western Military District zone of responsibility.”

But the military intimidation of Russia in relation to Finland, Sweden and the Alliance in general, very similar to the one it practiced with Ukraine months before the beginning of the invasion on February 24, is not the only form of coercion. According to the Finnish company Gasum, the Russian energy giant Gazprom is preparing to cut off gas supplies to Finland this Saturday. Gasum claims to have received a notification from Moscow warning that such a measure has to do with Helsinki’s refusal to pay for fuel in rubles.

Gasum assures that the flow of gas to Finland from Russia will be interrupted from seven in the morning. The president of the Finnish company, Mika Wiljanen, has branded in a statement “very regrettable” the gas cut by Russia, despite the fact that it does not represent more than 5% of the total consumption of Finland. The refusal to pay the bill in rubles, an order given by President Vladimir Putin, on March 31 as a retaliation measure for the sanctions imposed on Russia by the European Union, has meant that Poland and Bulgaria saw the gas tap already closed .

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said Thursday that about half of Gazprom’s 54 foreign customers already pay for gas in rubles. The mechanism established by the Russian gas company for its clients requires opening two accounts at Gazprombank, one in foreign currency and the other in rubles, from where the corresponding payment is made.

Last Monday, Putin pointed out that the expansion of the Atlantic Alliance at the expense of Finland and Sweden “will undoubtedly provoke our response (…) which will depend on the threats to our security that arise.” Days earlier, during a telephone conversation with the Finnish president, Sauli Niinistö, Putin called Finland’s eventual integration into NATO a “mistake”.

In relation to the course of the war in Ukraine, Shoigu referred this Friday to the situation on the Donbass front, noting that “the liberation of the -self-proclaimed- Lugansk People’s Republic is close to completion.” But the truth is that the territory currently controlled by the Russian troops and the separatist rebels in Lugansk is practically the same, without ostensible progress, as the one they managed to occupy at the end of February and the beginning of March, in the first days of the offensive. That is, more than 80 percent. However, from then on, when the occupation was almost complete, Moscow’s troops stalled. The fighting is now centered around the towns of Severodonetsk and Lisichansk, which have been under heavy bombardment for days, but which the Russians have not yet managed to take due to the fierce Ukrainian resistance.