The 6 EU countries at risk from Russian invasion as Putin sets sights beyond Ukraine

Russia: Nuclear strike would turn Germany into a wasteland

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Western leaders have expressed growing alarm at the situation in Russia, as hundreds of thousands of troops gather near the Ukrainian border, prompting fears of a fresh invasion. But is the real cause for concern the European nations who might be vulnerable to an attack, and is Vladimir Putin just using Ukraine as a smokescreen for what is to come?

Last week, an anonymous senior Western intelligence officer told the BBC that “to think war could be contained to one nation would be foolish”.

And on Tuesday, the UK Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, said: “The significance of the worst scenarios in terms of a full-scale invasion would be on a scale not seen in Europe since the Second World War”.

According to some analysts, EU member states who do not belong to the NATO military alliance are also particularly vulnerable to Russian invasion.

This means Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, Malta, and Sweden could all be on Moscow’s list of possible targets, with Finland and Sweden believed to be particularly vulnerable.

Mikheil Saakashvili, former president of Georgie and current head of the National Reform Council of Ukraine, predicted this in 2019 when said he believed that “Putin’s next target is likely to be a non-NATO nation in the EU”, rather than another invasion of Ukraine.

Writing for the Foreign Policy news website, Mr Saakashvili said: “I have had the misfortune of getting to know Putin better than most people. Drawing on this firsthand knowledge, I predict a different direction of escalation.”

Mr Saakashvili was the serving Georgian president when Russia invaded in 2008, a war between the two nations which has never really ended.

He said that further incursions in Ukraine or Georgia “would do little to bolster Putin’s position”.

Instead, he said: “Russia’s most likely target in the near future is either Finland or Sweden; although both are members of the EU, they are not members of NATO.

“By attacking a non-NATO country, Putin does not risk a proportional response in accordance with Article 5 (a NATO collective defence clause which states that if any NATO member is attacked, it will be considered an attack on all and all will reciprocate).

“But by targeting a European country, he can expect to reap the rewards of public approval at home from voters who are desperate for a victory.

“This is a simple cost-benefit analysis that Putin has conducted, openly, many times before.

“Each investment of Russian force has paid dividends. Finland and Sweden meet both requirements.”

Last week, US President Joe Biden said he would send reinforcements to NATO’s eastern flank in response to the threat in Ukraine.

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The US and European leaders have agreed to cooperate in the efforts to quell the Russian threat, and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he had agreed to present a “united front” with the US.

If an incursion on European soil were to occur, there is the chance that NATO members would offer assistance to non-members, though this might have its limits.

Mr Saakashvili said: “I do not expect Russian tanks to roll into Helsinki or Stockholm unopposed.

“But it would be relatively simple for Moscow to execute a land grab in a remote Arctic enclave or on a small island, like Sweden’s Gotland, considering the strategic capabilities Russia has built on its northern flank.”

He said that an offensive such as this might not be enough to trigger NATO into going to war, but would still be worth it for Russia as appearances would hold that Mr Putin has invaded the West.

Mr Saakashvili said: “Former Soviet states, even if they are NATO members like Estonia, are widely perceived as not quite Western.

“This perception may be inaccurate, but in politics, perception often matters more than reality. For Finland and Sweden, though, perception and reality are aligned.

“They are not ex-Soviet republics; they are unquestionably part of the West.”

He added: “This may sound shocking, but Putin has shocked the world many times over. The West cannot afford to be caught off guard again.”

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