Russia could attack a Nato country in as little as three years, according to Denmark’s defence minister, in the latest and starkest warning from a western official about Moscow’s appetite for confrontation beyond its war in Ukraine. Troels Lund Poulsen joined colleagues from Sweden, the UK, Romania, Germany and others in sounding the alarm about Russia’s increased defence spending potential leading to direct confrontation with Nato, which would test the alliance’s collective defence pledge known as Article 5. “It cannot be ruled out that within a three- to five-year period, Russia will test Article 5 and Nato’s solidarity. That was not Nato’s assessment in 2023. This is new information that is coming to the fore now,” Poulsen told Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper. European countries have increasingly warned in recent weeks that they believe Russia could try to undermine Nato in the coming decade. In private, many worry that an election victory for Donald Trump in November’s US presidential elections could embolden Russia further. Sweden’s military chief and prime minister have both this year warned its citizens to prepare mentally for war, while German and Estonian ministers have said that Russia could be able to attack Nato within five to eight years. While Kyiv’s western allies have struggled to agree further funding and to ramp up arms production for Ukraine, Russia has rebooted its military-industrial complex and secured weapons from countries such as Iran and North Korea. “There is reason to be genuinely concerned,” said Poulsen. “Russia’s capacity to produce military equipment has increased tremendously . . . Russia potentially has the will to [launch attacks]. Now they can also have the ability in terms of military capability earlier than we expected.” Micael Johansson, chief executive of Saab, the Swedish company that is one of Europe’s leading defence groups, told the Financial Times that he was worried about Russia producing more than 10 times more artillery rounds — about 4mn to 5mn a year — than Europe was able to. He said that western governments needed to give more long-term commitments to defence companies. “We are investing heavily. Is that enough? It is not so easy to understand how far we have to go to have deterrence and resilience versus the threat from the east,” Johansson said. He added that there was a significant need for “more sites, more capacity” to manufacture weapons in Europe.
Vlad Gheorghiță, the newly appointed head of the Romanian armed forces, said Russia would target Moldova and the western Balkans if it succeeded in Ukraine, adding that Romanians needed to prepare and the army should be beefed up in response. “The Russian Federation will not stop here. If [Putin] wins in Ukraine, the main target will be the Republic of Moldova. We will witness tensions in the western Balkans. I am more than convinced that President [Vladimir] Putin’s policy will escalate in the immediate future,” Gheorghiță told Radio Free Europe last week. Russian drone attacks in the Danube delta, where Ukraine borders Romania — a Nato country — have rattled Bucharest, exposing how ill-prepared it is against unmanned aircraft hitting its territory. “The people of Romania, as all of Europe, must be concerned and we must prepare accordingly,” Gheorghiță said, adding that Romania had a chronic shortage of personnel and lack of ammunition and equipment. Nato did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary-general, said earlier this week that the alliance did not see any imminent threat against a member country.