Russia has threatened Denmark with a nuclear strike if it takes part in Nato’s missile shield, in some of the most incendiary comments yet directed at a member of the military alliance.
Russia’s ambassador to Denmark wrote in a newspaper opinion piece that the Nordic country had not fully understood the consequences of signing up to the Nato missile defence programme.
“If it happens, then Danish warships will be targets for Russia’s nuclear weapons. Denmark will be part of the threat to Russia,” Mikhail Vanin wrote in Jyllands-Posten.
The dramatic threat cranks up further Russian pressure on countries in the Baltic region. Russian aircraft have violated the airspace of Estonia, Finland and Sweden and were involved in two near misses last year with passenger aircraft taking off from Copenhagen.
Russia is also reportedly moving Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad, its enclave that is bordered by Lithuania and Poland and which has seen a number of large military exercises in recent years.
Denmark attempted to keep calm after the ambassador’s warning. Martin Lidegaard, foreign minister, called the comments “unacceptable”, adding: “Russia knows full well that Nato’s missile defence is not aimed at them. We are in disagreement with Russia on a number of important things but it is important that the tone between us does not escalate.”
Mr Lidegaard indicated in August that Denmark would fit one or possibly more frigates with a type of radar that would allow the ships to be used in the Nato missile shield.
The defence shield has been mooted for more than a decade to protect Europe from a missile attack. Although Iranian missiles were mentioned when the shield proposals became more concrete in 2010-11, Russia has long suspected it would be used to neuter its nuclear deterrent. The chief of Russia’s general staff in 2012 threatened any country hosting the shield on its soil with a pre-emptive nuclear strike.Nicolai Wammen, Denmark’s defence minister, said in August: “That Denmark will join the missile defence system with radar capacity on one or more of our frigates is not an action that is targeted against Russia, but rather to protect us against rogues states, terrorist organisations and others that have the capacity to fire missiles at Europe and the US.”
Denmark has tried to take a more restrained tone than some of its neighbours such as Sweden, which is not a Nato member, whose foreign minister warned that Swedes felt “truly afraid” of Russia. Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Denmark’s prime minister, told the Financial Times in November: “In terms of our territory we are not worried. We keep our heads calm and the cockpit warm.”
The warning to Denmark came in the same week that Swedish intelligence claimed that one in three Russian diplomats in the country were spies. Wilhelm Unge, chief counter-espionage analyst at Sweden’s Sapo intelligence agency, said: “We see Russian intelligence operations in Sweden — we can't interpret this in any other way — as preparation for military operations against Sweden.”