Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Putin warns Finland, NATO membership will damage relations

By Jari Tanner – The Associated Press

Helsinki ( Associated Press) – Russian President Vladimir Putin warned his Finnish counterpart on Saturday that relations between the two neighbors could be “negatively affected” if Finland follows through on plans to apply for NATO membership.

The Kremlin’s press service said in a statement that Putin told Saulie Niinisto that Finland “would be an error to abandon its traditional policy of military neutrality because there is no threat to Finland’s security.”

“Such a change in the country’s foreign policy could negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations, which for many years were built in the spirit of good neighborliness and partnership and were mutually beneficial,” the statement said.

Niinisto told Putin in a phone call that the militarily non-aligned Nordic country, which has a complicated history with its vast eastern neighbour, “will decide to apply for NATO membership in the coming days.”

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, and Finland’s membership of the 30-nation Western Military Alliance. pointed to the demands of Russia to abstain. ,

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“The discussion (with Putin) was direct and clear and was conducted without exaggeration. It was considered important to avoid tensions,” said Finnish President Niinisto since 2012 and is one of a handful of Western leaders who have held regular talks with Putin over the past decade.

Niinisto reported that he had already told Putin at their first meeting in 2012 that “every free nation will maximize its security.”

“Still remains the same. By joining NATO, Finland will strengthen its security and fulfill its responsibilities,” Niinisto said.

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

According to the Kremlin statement, the two leaders also discussed Russia’s “military operation” in Ukraine and the possibility of achieving a political solution. Putin said talks between Moscow and Kyiv had been postponed because of Ukraine’s “lack of interest in serious and constructive dialogue”.

The phone call was conducted at the initiative of Finland, Ninisto’s office said.

Finland shares a 1,340-kilometre (830 mi) border with Russia, the longest border by any European Union member.

Niinisto and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Thursday jointly backed their country’s NATO bid and recommended that Finland should “apply without delay for NATO membership” to guarantee its security.

Finland’s Ninisto and Marin are expected to formally announce their intention to apply for NATO membership on Sunday. Marin’s governing Social Democratic Party approved a membership bid on Saturday, paving the way for a parliamentary vote next week to support the move. It is expected to pass with overwhelming support. The formal membership application will then be submitted to NATO Headquarters in Brussels.

Neighboring Sweden is set to decide on its NATO stance at a meeting of the governing Social Democratic Party led by Prime Minister Magdalena Andersen on Sunday.

A potential obstacle to Finland and Sweden joining the alliance came from NATO member Turkey, whose president said on Friday he was “not friendly” to the idea.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan cited support in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries for Kurdish terrorists – whom Turkey considers terrorists.

Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Havisto said on Saturday that he had already called on his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Kavusoglu “to ease tensions”.

“I am sure we will find a solution to this issue as well,” he told reporters at the beginning of an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin late Saturday.

US President Joe Biden held a joint call with both Niinisto and Anderson on Friday where, according to a White House statement, he called for “NATO’s Open Doors policy and for Finland and Sweden’s own future, foreign policy and their own right.” Underlined his support for the right to decide the future. Security arrangements.”

Frank Jordan in Berlin contributed to this report.

Follow Associated Press’s coverage of the Ukraine war https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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