Sauli Niinistö says he will talk with Russian leader to discuss changed situation following decision to join NATO
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö reportedly plans to call his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to discuss the changed security situation in the region now that leaders in Helsinki have decided to join NATO.
Niinistö commented on his planned outreach to Putin in an interview with Sweden’s TT news agency on Friday, one day after issuing a statement that Finland “must apply for NATO membership without delay.” The Kremlin has said that Finland’s accession to NATO would be a threat to Russia and that the US-led military bloc’s eastward expansion is undermining security in the region.
“I’m not the kind of person who just slips around the corner,” Niinistö said of his effort to discuss the issue with Putin. “I am going to call him and say that the situation has changed, as we both know.”
Finland has a land border of 1,340 kilometers (832 miles) with Russia. In 1939, Finland fought war against the Soviet Union. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Niinistö and Putin typically met with each other in person twice a year. The Finnish leader traveled to Moscow for a meeting with Putin last October, and the two men spoke by phone in March, when Niinistö raised concerns about the Russian invasion of Ukraine two weeks after the military offensive against Kiev began.
Since the end of World War II Finland has kept its military neutrality. Finns are historically against joining NATO. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, February 24, public opinion changed dramatically. According to media outlet YLE, 62% of Finns favored NATO membership in a poll. Sweden has been a member of NATO since the beginning, with a more than 200-year history.
Niinistö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdelana Andersson spoke with US President Joe Biden by telephone on Friday morning, days after the two Nordic leaders met with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “We shared a deep concern over Russia’s war on Ukraine,” Niinistö said of Friday’s call with Biden. “I went through Finland’s next steps toward NATO membership. Finland deeply appreciates all the necessary support from the US.”
UK sign new security agreements titled “pre-NATO”
Although Finnish and Swedish leaders have said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forced them to rethink their security stance, they’re now looking to do one of the things that allegedly triggered the current conflict: seeking NATO membership. Rather than reaping the expected peace dividend after the cold war ended in 1989, NATO extended its reach right up to Russia’s borders, breaking promises against eastward expansion. The bloc has added 14 new members since 1999, and Ukraine and another former Soviet republic, Georgia, have applied to be part of NATO’s next expansion wave.
Russian leaders have argued that having NATO members and strategic weapons deployed on their country’s doorstep violates the principle of “indivisible security,” meaning neither the Western bloc nor Moscow should be allowed to strengthen its own security at the expense of the other party.
Russia attacked Ukraine following the neighboring state’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, first signed in 2014, and Moscow’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. Minsk Protocol (German- and French-brokered) was created to provide special status for the Ukrainian states that break from their borders.
In recent years, the Kremlin demands that Ukraine declares itself neutral in order to be able to join NATO. Kiev claims that the Russian invasion was unprovoked. It also denies any plans to take the republics with force.