Finnish President Sauli Niinisto has informed Russian leader Vladimir Putin in a phone call that his Nordic nation is planning to bid for NATO membership, a move Putin had warned his counterpart would make a mistake by allowing the could jeopardize neighborly relations between the two nations.
“President Niinisto told President Putin how Russian demands in late 2021 aimed at preventing countries from joining NATO and Russia’s massive invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 have fundamentally changed Finland’s security environment,” read one Statement by the Finnish government on May 14th.
“The conversation was open and direct, but without escalation. It was considered important to avoid tensions,” Niinisto said, according to the Finnish Presidential Office.
The Kremlin said Putin stressed in the call that it would be a mistake to abandon Helsinki’s traditional policy of military neutrality “since there are no threats to Finland’s security. Such a change in the country’s foreign policy could negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations. “
With Finland and neighboring Sweden appearing ready to bid for NATO membership, Russia said on May 14 that its response to the Nordic countries joining the western military alliance would depend on the nature of NATO’s military infrastructure, which would lie on their territory.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko told reporters in Moscow that Finland and Sweden’s NATO accession would require a strategic change and that the Kremlin would take “appropriate response measures” if NATO’s nuclear forces were moved closer to Russia’s borders.
Grushko added that Russia has no hostile intentions towards Finland and Sweden, where support for NATO accession has increased in traditionally neutral countries following Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February. Russia has cited Ukraine’s ambitions to join NATO as the main reason for starting the war.
Niinisto this week advocated joining NATO “immediately”, saying it would strengthen security in the country, which shares a 1,300-kilometer border with Russia.
The country’s ruling Social Democratic Party later announced on May 14 its support for NATO membership, a move that would pave the way for membership bids in the coming days.
The government’s decision to apply for NATO membership will require parliamentary approval, which seems highly likely.
The Swedish government has also presented plans to oblige Sweden to apply for NATO membership and is expected to announce a decision soon.
US President Joe Biden held a joint telephone conversation with Niinisto and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson on May 13, in which he emphasized “close security and defense cooperation” and supported the two Nordic countries’ expected NATO offers.
“President Biden underscored his support for NATO’s open-door policy and for the right of Finland and Sweden to decide their own future, foreign policy and security arrangements,” the White House report on the call said.
NATO foreign ministers will meet in Berlin starting May 14 for two-day talks that will also include the possible membership of Finland and Sweden. Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde and Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto are expected to attend the meeting, which will also be attended by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Many members of the alliance have already expressed their support for applications from Sweden and Finland.
However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on May 13 that he had no “positive opinion” on the Nordic countries’ membership, citing alleged support by Sweden and other Scandinavian countries for Kurdish militants and others that Turkey is considering for his reservations be terrorists.
Ankara appeared to ease some of its opposition on May 14 when a senior foreign policy adviser to Erdogan told Reuters that Turkey had not closed the door on countries’ potential accession bids.
However, he said that Ankara wanted negotiations with the Nordic countries and that they cut off any support for militants in Turkey.
“We’re not closing the door. But we are raising this issue basically for reasons of national security for Turkey,” Ibrahim Kalin said in an interview in Istanbul.
Potential opposition has fueled suggestions that Turkey could veto Finland and Sweden’s bids to join NATO, which would require unanimous support from the alliance’s 30 member states to pass.
Hours after Erdogan’s comment, the White House and Pentagon said they were “working to clarify Turkey’s position regarding Sweden and Finland,” while stressing that Ankara’s position in NATO would not change because of its position.