Finland insists on having the right to join NATO and defies Russia’s demands

Russia’s saber-rattling in Ukraine has revived the debate in Finland over whether the Nordic country should join NATO, despite demands from Moscow seeking to limit the expansion of the military alliance in Europe.

Both President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin used their New Year’s speeches to emphasize that Finland at all times retained the opportunity to apply for NATO membership.

“Let it be said once again: Finland’s room for maneuver and freedom of choice also include the possibility of military adaptation and of applying for NATO membership, should we decide for ourselves,” Niinisto said.

In his separate speech, Marin added that each country had the right to decide its own security policy, stressing: “We have shown that we have learned from the past. We will not let go of our room for maneuver.”

As Russia gathers about 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s eastern border, Washington, Moscow and NATO member states are set to meet for talks in early January. US President Joe Biden will also speak to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday. Russian President Vladimir Putin has previously refused to rule out military action, warning that he has “all sorts of options” if his demands for “security guarantees” to curb NATO enlargement are unfulfilled.

Finland and neighboring Sweden are both militarily non-aligned, but have a growing partnership with NATO as well as strong bilateral ties with members of the alliance such as the United States, Norway and the United Kingdom.

There is no sense that Finland is just about to apply for NATO membership, but Russia’s activity on the borders with Ukraine and its list of demands just before Christmas has fueled the internal debate in Helsinki to a level last seen after the Russian annexation of Crimea.

Niinisto also warned the West that it risked authorizing Russia if it removed the threat of possible military action. Referring to former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to appease Nazi Germany, the Finnish president said: “When it has been a primary power group’s goal to avoid war, the international system has been at the mercy of its most ruthless member.”

Petteri Orpo, leader of the main opposition party National Coalition, a longtime supporter of NATO membership, also said that now was the time to discuss whether Finland should apply and that he believed that accession would improve both its and the neighboring region’s security. .

“Russia has recently suggested that the possible NATO membership of Finland and Sweden would force the country to retaliate militarily. Such a speech is reprehensible and ultimately says more about Russia’s ultimate goal than Finland’s or Sweden’s. Finland does not pose a threat to Russia now or in any other way, “Orpo said on Thursday in a post on his party’s website.

Atte Harjanne, an active reservist and leader of the parliamentary group in the Greens, a member of the ruling five-party governing coalition, said that the arguments for Finland’s accession had been “strengthened” and that the country should join immediately.

Leading politicians in all three Baltic countries believe that Finnish and Swedish membership of NATO is crucial to improving the security situation at Russia’s western border amid concerns not only about Ukraine but also Belarus and its use of migrants to test Poland, Lithuania and Latvia .

Finland and Sweden join NATO “can make the whole of northern Europe much more stable and secure.” said Marko Mihkelson, Chair of Estonia’s Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee.

Finland is one of the few European countries that did not significantly cut back on its military strength after the Cold War, as its 1,340 km long border with Russia, and the memories of the bitterly fought winter war of 1939-40 against the Soviet Union, ensured security issues remained high priority. .

Finland has also maintained close diplomatic and commercial ties with Russia, and security experts say Niinisto may be the European leader most respected by his Russian counterpart Putin, with whom he has regular talks.

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