While the conflict in Ukraine remains bogged down, the leaders of several European countries are increasing their warnings about the possibility of a head-on clash between NATO and Russia in the near future.
In recent weeks, several Baltic and Scandinavian states members of the transatlantic organization have affirmed that such a conflict could materialize less than five years after a hypothetical victory by Moscow against Kyiv.
The Norwegian government indicated in particular that the country had a window of “one, two, or even three years” to intensify its military preparations for a possible Russian offensive.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis similarly called on his European counterparts to prepare for the worst during the latest Davos summit.
“There is no scenario in which it will end well for Europe if Ukraine fails to win,” he said.
Germany has warned that an attack on a NATO member country in Europe was possible within “five to eight years”.
The Swedish government, which is in the process of completing its NATO membership process, has warned its population of the need to “mentally prepare” for war with Russia.
The exit was denounced by opposition parties, who criticized Stockholm for being unnecessarily alarmist.
The rhetoric of these leaders echoes the words of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who insists, almost systematically, to support his requests for military and economic aid, on the fact that Moscow will continue its expansionist projects in the event of a victory against Kyiv .
The hypothesis of Russian victory
Brian Taylor, a Russia specialist at Syracuse University, notes that the scenario of a Russian attack on a NATO country seems “fantastic” since such an initiative would in theory lead to a collective military response from other members. of the transatlantic organization.
The warnings that resonate at the moment arise in particular, he says, from the evolution of the military situation in Ukraine, where the vast counter-offensive launched in 2023 by Kyiv has not made it possible to move the lines Russians.
The political deadlock in the United States, where Republicans and Democrats are unable to agree to release new crucial military aid for the Ukrainian army, works in favor of Moscow, which has taken the initiative.
The situation raises fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin will ultimately succeed in ousting President Zelensky’s government by replacing it with a pro-Russian regime, and decides, on the strength of his victory, to launch a new offensive.
He (Mr Putin) could get drunk on his success, conclude that the West is just a paper tiger and decide to push further to see what happens.
Brian Taylor, Russia specialist at Syracuse University
Justin Massie, a specialist in security issues attached to the University of Quebec in Montreal, notes that the hypothesis of a Russian victory in Ukraine is particularly frightening in countries bordering Russia.
Moscow, which saw its army severely tested in Ukraine, could not face, he said, a conventional military confrontation with NATO countries.
Vladimir Putin could, however, secretly organize an uprising in a given country while denying any responsibility in such a way as to present the transatlantic organization with a fait accompli as he did in Crimea or in eastern Ukraine. in 2014, notes the analyst.
Member countries must intervene under Article 5 of the NATO treaty if any of them are attacked, but the limited nature of the Russian operation could spark divisions in the ranks of the Atlantic organization .
“Undermining the principle of Article 5 would already be a huge victory for Russia,” notes Mr. Massie.
Such divisions could particularly manifest themselves in the case of a return to power of former US President Donald Trump, who has already openly mocked the idea that the United States should go to war to defend a small European country.
Many European states, notes Mr. Massie, fear that the return of the controversial politician will undermine American support for NATO and are therefore seeking to prepare their populations for the need to increase their military spending.
Only 11 of the organization’s 28 member countries spent the equivalent of 2% of their GDP on military spending last year. A Western diplomat recently told New York Times that around twenty should reach the target this year, reflecting the shift in progress.
The Russian government, which has openly threatened the Baltic and Scandinavian countries for two years, assures that it has no interest in engaging in a head-on confrontation with NATO.
His recent interventions aim above all to strengthen the reservations of the Republican camp towards Ukraine, notes Mr. Taylor, who understands the countries bordering Russia to be alarmed.
“Their warnings are both sincere and strategic. It is imperative for them to convince their population of the seriousness of the situation,” concludes the analyst.