Putin warns that Finland’s NATO membership would damage relations

Putin warns that Finland’s 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 through with its plans to apply for NATO membership.

The Kremlin’s press service said in a statement that Putin told Sauli Niinisto that Finland’s abandonment “would be a mistake in its traditional policy of military neutrality, as there are no threats to Finland’s security.”

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

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

Niinisto’s office said in a statement that Finland’s leader told Putin how much Finland’s security environment had changed after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, citing Russia’s demands for Finland to be a member of the 30th-century government member states should renounce the existing western military alliance.

“The conversation (with Putin) was direct and clear and without exaggeration. It was considered important to avoid tensions,” said Niinisto, Finland’s president since 2012 and one of a few Western leaders to have had regular dialogue with Putin over the past decade.

Niinisto pointed out that he had already told Putin when they first met in 2012 that “every independent nation would maximize its own security”.

“It’s still like that. By joining NATO, Finland will strengthen its own security and live up to its responsibilities. It’s not something remote from anyone,” Niinisto said.

Niinisto stressed that Finland, despite its likely future membership in NATO, still wants to negotiate bilaterally with Russia on “practical issues arising from border proximity” and hopes to cooperate 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 reaching a political solution to the situation. Putin said talks between Moscow and Kyiv have been suspended due to “Ukraine’s lack of interest in a serious and constructive dialogue.”

The phone call was made on Finland’s initiative, said Niinisto’s office.

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

Niinisto and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Thursday jointly endorsed Finland’s NATO bid, recommending that the country “must immediately apply for NATO membership” to ensure the country’s security amid Russian military maneuvers in Ukraine and shifting geopolitical and security landscapes to ensure the landscape of Europe.

A formal announcement from Finland’s Niinisto and Marin to apply for NATO membership is expected on Sunday. Marin’s ruling Social Democratic Party approved the accession bid on Saturday, paving the way for a parliamentary vote next week to approve the move. It is expected to pass with overwhelming support. A formal application for membership would then be submitted to NATO Headquarters in Brussels.

Neighboring Sweden is due to decide on its NATO stance at a meeting of the ruling Social Democrats led by Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson on Sunday.

US President Joe Biden held a joint call with Niinisto and Andersson on Friday, during which he “underlined his support for NATO’s open-door policy and for Finland and Sweden’s right over their own future,” according to a White House statement , to decide foreign policy and security arrangements.”

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

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