Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, shakes hands with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, second left, after signing a memorandum in which Turkey agrees to Finland and Sweden's membership of the defense alliance in Madrid, Spain on Tuesday, June 28, 2022. North Atlantic Treaty Organization heads of state will meet for a summit in Madrid from Tuesday through Thursday. Credit: Bernat Armangue

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Another 15 million people joined the NATO alliance on Tuesday. Finland and Sweden, formerly neutral countries but near to Russia, gave in to Turkish blackmail, and that cleared the way for them to join the western alliance. (Every NATO member, including Turkey, has a veto on new members joining.)

The circumstances were a bit squalid, since both Sweden and Finland abandoned their support for Turkey’s oppressed Kurdish minority in order to unblock their own path to NATO membership. Russia is not planning to invade them at the moment, but as soon as Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, both Scandinavian countries were knocking at NATO’s door.

The problem, although nobody mentions it out loud, is nuclear weapons. The two Baltic countries have no nukes of their own (although Sweden once considered getting them), and now President Vladimir Putin and his enablers hint at nuclear strikes every time anything goes wrong with his war against Ukraine.

The only way Finland and Sweden can get protection from Russian nuclear blackmail is to join NATO, three of whose members (the United States, Britain and France) have nuclear weapons of their own. Since all NATO members are obliged to protect any member under attack, that gives the Swedes and Finns a nuclear guarantee.

There have, of course, been the usual warnings from the usual sources that letting these two countries into NATO will make the Russians even more paranoid and therefore even more prone to attack their neighbors (although the latter part of that warning is never fully articulated). But this is sheer nonsense.

The Russians are indeed paranoid, but that is a state of being, not a response to some particular act they interpret as aggressive. They come by their paranoia honestly, in the sense that they have been invaded by the “A team” of would-be world conquerors (the Mongols, Napoleon, Hitler) and live in a country with no “natural” frontiers.

But it is paranoia, and it will be there whatever other people do. The Russians never really intended to conquer western Europe, but they did put their own puppets into power in all the eastern European countries and turn them into satellites after the Second World War. That was “defensive” in their own minds, but it felt like aggression to everybody else.

After 40 years of Soviet military occupation, it was inevitable that those eastern European countries would seek shelter in an expanded NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And it was necessary for NATO to take those countries in, because otherwise they would have tried to build their own defenses against Russia.

Historical might-have-beens are usually highly debatable, but it’s close to certain that if Poland had not been able to join NATO and come under its nuclear guarantee, it would have its own nuclear weapons by now. Given the country’s long history of subjugation and brutalization by Russia, the Poles would have seen any other course as sheer madness.

Yes, all those countries joining NATO “provoked” Moscow, but when you are dealing with a career paranoiac there is no choice. The fact is that at no time since 1945 have the Western powers had the military strength to invade Russia successfully on the ground. Since about 1960 they have not had the capacity to win a nuclear war against Russia either.

The Russians aren’t stupid. They are paranoid because of their history, but they can count. At one level they fully understand that NATO could not invade them because (a) it lacks the necessary superiority in conventional military forces (even after the recent demonstration of their own army’s parlous state), and (b) Russia has nuclear weapons.

So they have unreasonable fears, but they also know how to use the known fact of their paranoia to justify aggressive actions of their own. In the hands of a man like Vladimir Putin this can be a powerful diplomatic tool, and the only sensible way to counter it is to refuse to enter into that intellectual swamp at all.

Just stop psychologizing about the Russians, and do whatever seems reasonable and necessary.

Gwynne Dyer, Opinion columnist

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose commentary is published in 45 countries.