HELSINKI (AP) — Finnish President Sauli Niinisto told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin Saturday that the militarily non-aligned Nordic country that shares a long border and history with Russia “will decide to apply for NATO membership in the coming days”.
Niinisto’s office said in a statement that the Finnish head of state told Putin in a phone conversation how thoroughly Finland’s security environment had changed after Moscow’s Feb. 24 invasion on Ukraine, and pointed to Russia’s demands on Finland refraining from seeking membership in NATO, the 30-member Western military alliance.
“The discussion (with Putin) was straightforward and unambiguous and was held without exaggeration. Avoiding tensions was considered important,” said Niinisto, Finland’s president since 2012 and one of few Western leaders who has held regular dialogue with Putin over the past ten years.
Niinisto pointed out that had already told Putin at their first meeting in 2012 that “each independent nation would maximize its own security.”
“That is still the case. By joining NATO, Finland will strengthen its own security and assume its responsibilities. It is not something away from anybody,” Niinisto said.
He stressed that Finland, despite its likely future membership in NATO, wants to continue to deal with Russia bilaterally in “practical issues generated by the border neighborhood” and hope to engage with Moscow “in a professional manner”.
The phone call was conducted on Finland’s initiative, Niinisto’s office said. The statement didn’t disclose any comments from Putin or the Kremlin on the conversation.
Finland shares a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border with Russia, the longest by any European Union member.
Niinisto and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Thursday jointly endorsed Finland’s NATO bid and recommended that the country “must apply for NATO membership without delay” to guarantee the nation’s security amid Russia’s military maneuvers in Ukraine and Europe’s changed geopolitical and security landscape.
A formal announcement from Niinisto and Marin that Finland intends to apply for NATO membership is expected on Sunday, a day after the likely endorsement by Marin’s governing Social Democratic.
Neighboring Sweden is set to decide on its NATO stance on Sunday in a meeting of the governing 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, according to a White House statement, he “underscored his support for NATO’s Open Door policy and for the right of Finland and Sweden to decide their own future, foreign policy and security arrangements.”
Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Jari Tanner, The Associated Press