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The accession of Finland and Sweden to Nato would boost the alliance's military and naval access in the Baltic Sea against Russia and transform regional “geometry”, President Joe Biden's nominee to become Nato's next supreme allied commander in Europe said on Thursday.
Gen Christopher Cavoli, currently the commander of US Army Europe-Africa, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Nordic countries' membership in Nato would immediately help the alliance.
“From a military perspective, each of those militaries brings quite a bit of capability and capacity to the alliance from day one,” he said.
Given their strategic coastline — particularly Finland’s 1,300-kilometre border with Russia — their membership “would create a very different geometry to the area”, Gen Cavoli said.
“It provides a bunch of different dilemmas, almost geometric dilemmas that Russia does not have right now as they sail forth from St Petersburg to Kaliningrad,” the US military commander said.
He especially emphasised the strength of Finland’s military, which is equipped with F-18 and F-35 fighter jets, and pointed to the country's previous experience fighting Russia in the 1930s.
Gen Cavoli described Sweden’s naval assets in the Baltic Sea as being of “enormous military significance” to the alliance.
The two Nordic countries officially submitted their bids to join Nato this month in response to Russia' invasion of Ukraine.
Nato member Turkey, however, has so far blocked their entry, saying their failure to label the Kurdish militant organisation the PKK a terrorist group is unacceptable. It has also expressed frustration over restrictions on military exports from the countries to Ankara.
US officials are hopeful these issues can be resolved diplomatically.
Gen Cavoli did not comment on the negotiations but stressed that he looks forward to Finland and Sweden joining the alliance.
On Ukraine, the US general, who speaks fluent Russian, said that Nato has three goals in the war: that Ukraine emerge from the conflict as “independent and free”, that the alliance stay “unified and strong as ever” and that these goals be attained without Nato “engaging in a war with Russia”.
He also assessed that “there are about 22 million tonnes of grain in Ukraine waiting to be pulled out”, but that they have been blocked because of Russia’s dominance in the Black Sea.
On Thursday, a senior US defence official told reporters that Russia has increased its air defence systems on Snake Island in the Black Sea.
“It gives them additional options, it gives them additional flexibility in the northern Black Sea,” the official said.
The Pentagon assessed that Russia has lost almost 1,000 tanks, at least 50 helicopters, three dozen fighter-bomber aircraft and 350 artillery pieces in the three months since it invaded Ukraine.
The official pointed to incremental Russian gains in the eastern part of the country but argued that the fighting could drag on for a long time.
“It is, in fact, very much an artillery duel. And now it's a scrap over smaller pieces of earth and it could go on for quite a while,” the official said.