Russian President Vladimir Putin warned his Finnish counterpart on Saturday that relations between the two neighbors could be “negatively affected” if Finland goes ahead with plans to apply for NATO membership.
The Kremlin press service said in a statement that Putin told Sauli Niinisto that Finland’s abandonment “of its traditional policy of military neutrality would be a mistake as there are no threats to Finland’s security.”
“Such a change in the country’s foreign policy could negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations, which were built in a spirit of good neighborliness and partnership for many years and were mutually beneficial,” the statement added.
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The response came after Niinisto told Putin in a phone conversation that the militarily non-aligned Nordic country that has a complex history with its huge neighbor to the east “will decide to apply for NATO membership in the coming days.”
Niinisto’s office said in a statement that the Finnish head of state told Putin how radically Finland’s security environment had changed after Moscow’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, noting Russia’s demands for Finland to refrain from seeking membership in the Western military alliance of 30 member states. .
“The discussion (with Putin) was direct and unequivocal and carried out without exaggeration. It was considered important to avoid tensions,” said Niinisto, Finland’s president since 2012 and one of the few Western leaders to have had regular dialogue with Putin over the past decade.
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Niinisto noted that he had already told Putin at their first meeting in 2012 that “every independent nation would maximize its own security.”
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“That is still the case. By joining NATO, Finland will strengthen its own security and assume its responsibilities. It’s not something away from anyone,” Niinisto said.
Niinisto stressed that Finland, despite its possible future NATO membership, wants to continue dealing with Russia bilaterally on “practical issues generated by the border neighbourhood” and hopes to engage with Moscow “in a professional manner”.
According to the Kremlin statement, the two leaders also discussed Russia’s military operation in Ukraine and the possibility of achieving a political solution to the situation. Putin said that negotiations between Moscow and kyiv had been suspended due to Ukraine’s “lack of interest in a serious and constructive dialogue.”
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The phone call was made at the initiative of Finland, Niinisto’s office said.
Finland shares a 1,340-kilometre (830-mile) border with Russia, the longest of any member of the European Union.
Niinisto and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Thursday jointly endorsed Finland’s NATO bid, recommending that the country “should apply for NATO membership without delay” to ensure the nation’s security amid military exercises. of Russia in Ukraine and Europe’s changed geopolitical and security landscape.
A formal announcement from Niinisto and Marin on Finland’s intention to apply for NATO membership is expected on Sunday. Marin’s ruling Social Democratic Party approved the membership offer on Saturday, paving the way for a parliamentary vote next week to back the move. It is expected to pass with overwhelming support. A formal application for membership would then be sent to NATO headquarters in Brussels.
Neighboring Sweden will decide its position on NATO on Sunday at a meeting of the ruling Social Democratic Party led by Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.
US President Joe Biden held a joint call Friday with Niinisto and Andersson in which, according to a White House statement, he “underscored his support for NATO’s open door policy and Finland’s right and Sweden to decide its own future, foreign policy and security arrangements.”
© 2022 Associated Press