Russian President Vladimir Putin warned his Finnish counterpart Saturday that relations between the two neighbours could be negatively affected if Finland follows through with plans to apply for NATO membership.
The press service of the Kremlin said in a statement that Putin told Sauli Niinisto that Finland's abandonment of its military neutrality policy would be an error since there are no threats to Finland's security. Such a change in the country's foreign policy could affect Russian-Finnish relations, which had been built in the spirit of good neighbourliness and partnership for many years, and were mutually beneficial, the statement said.
The response came after Niinisto told Putin in a phone conversation that the militarily non-aligned Nordic country with a complex history with its huge eastern neighbour would apply for NATO membership in the coming days. The Finnish head of state told Putin how starkly Finland's security environment had changed after Moscow's Feb. 24 invasion on Ukraine, and Russia's demands for Finland to not seek membership in the 30 member-state Western military alliance.
The discussion with Putin was straightforward and unambiguous and held without exaggeration. Niinisto, Finland's president since 2012, said the importance of avoiding tensions was considered and one of a handful of Western leaders who have been in regular dialogue with Putin over the past decade.
Niinisto pointed out that he had already told Putin at their first meeting in 2012 that each independent nation would maximise its own security. That is still the case. By joining NATO, Finland will strengthen its own security and assume its responsibilities. Niinisto said it was not something away from anybody.
Despite its likely future membership in NATO, Niinisto wants to deal with Russia bilaterally in practical issues generated by the border neighbourhood and hopes to engage 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 achieving a political solution to the situation. Putin said that the negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv had been suspended due to Ukraine's lack of interest in a serious and constructive dialogue. Niinisto's office said the phone call was conducted on Finland's initiative.
Finland shares a 1,340 kilometre 830 mile border with Russia, the longest of any European Union member.
Niinisto and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin endorsed Finland's NATO bid and recommended that the country apply for NATO membership without delay to guarantee the nation's security amid Russia's military manoeuvres in Ukraine and Europe's changing geopolitical and security landscape.
The announcement from Niinisto and Marin of Finland's intention to apply for NATO membership is expected to be made on Sunday. The governing Social Democratic Party approved the membership bid on Saturday, which will lead to a parliamentary vote next week to approve the move. It's expected to pass with overwhelming support. A formal membership application would be submitted to the NATO headquarters in Brussels.
Sweden is expected to decide on Sunday on its NATO position in a meeting of the Social Democratic Party led by Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.
U.S. president Joe Biden held a joint call Friday with both Niinisto and Andersson, where he emphasized his support for NATO's Open Door policy and the right of Finland and Sweden to decide their own future, foreign policy and security arrangements.