Putin warns Finland NATO membership would damage relations

HELSINKI (AP) – 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 giving up Finland “from 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 had been built for years in the spirit of good neighborliness and partnership and which were mutually beneficial,” the statement added. .

The response came after Niinisto told Putin in a phone call that the militarily non-aligned Scandinavian country that has a complex history with its massive eastern neighbor “will decide in the coming days whether to apply for NATO membership”.

Niinisto’s office said in a statement that Finland’s head of state told Putin how much Finland’s security environment had changed after Moscow’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, pointing out Russia’s demands on Finland not to seek membership in the Western military. alliance of 30 member states. †

“The discussion (with Putin) was straightforward and unequivocal and conducted without exaggeration. Avoiding tensions was considered important,” said Niinisto, the Finnish president since 2012 and one of the few Western leaders to have had regular conversations with Putin over the past decade.

Niinisto pointed out that he had already told Putin during their first meeting in 2012 that “any independent nation would maximize its own security”.

“It still is. By joining NATO, Finland will strengthen its own security and assume its responsibilities. It’s not something that takes away from anyone,” Niinisto said.

Niinisto stressed that despite its likely future NATO membership, Finland wants to continue to negotiate bilaterally with Russia on “practical issues posed by the border region” and hopes to deal “in a professional manner” with Moscow.

According to the Kremlin statement, the two leaders also discussed the Russian military operation in Ukraine and the possibility of reaching a political solution to the situation. Putin said negotiations between Moscow and Kiev had been suspended because of Ukraine’s “lack of interest in serious and constructive dialogue”.

The call was made at the initiative of Finland, Niinisto’s office said.

Finland shares a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border with Russia, the longest of any member of the European Union.

Niinisto and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin jointly endorsed Finland’s NATO offer on Thursday and recommended that the country “apply for NATO membership immediately” to ensure the country’s security amid Russia’s military maneuvers in Ukraine and the Europe’s changing geopolitical and security landscape.

A formal announcement is expected on Sunday from Niinisto and Marin of Finland’s intention to apply for NATO membership. Marin’s ruling Social Democratic Party approved the membership offer on Saturday and paved the way for a parliamentary vote next week to support the move. It is expected to succeed with overwhelming support. A formal application for membership would then be submitted to NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Neighboring Sweden will decide its NATO stance on Sunday at a meeting of the ruling Social Democratic Party led by Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.

US President Joe Biden held a joint appeal Friday with both Niinisto and Andersson where, according to a White House statement, he “emphasized his support for NATO’s open-door policy and for Finland’s and Sweden’s right to decide on their own future, foreign policy and security provisions.”

Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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