Finnish President Sauli Niinisto told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Saturday that the militarily non-aligned Scandinavian 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 Finland’s head of state, Putin, told in a telephone conversation how profoundly Finland’s security environment had changed after the February 24 invasion of Moscow on Ukraineand pointed to Russia’s demands that Finland renounce its pursuit of membership in NATO, the 30-member Western military alliance.
“The discussion (with Putin) was straightforward and unequivocal and conducted without exaggeration. Avoiding tensions was considered important,” said Niinisto, Finland’s president since 2012 and one of the few Western leaders to have had a regular dialogue with Putin over the past decade.
Niinisto pointed out that he had already told Putin during their first meeting in 2012 that “any independent nation would maximize its own security”. “It still is. By joining NATO, Finland will strengthen its own security and assume its responsibilities. It’s not something that takes away from anyone,” Niinisto said.
He stressed that, despite its likely future NATO membership, Finland wants to continue to negotiate bilaterally with Russia on “practical issues posed by the border region” and hopes to deal “in a professional manner” with Moscow.
The call was made at the initiative of Finland, Niinisto’s office said. The statement did not reveal any comments from Putin or the Kremlin about the conversation.
Finland shares a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border with Russia, the longest of any member of the European Union.
Niinisto and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin jointly endorsed Finland’s NATO offer on Thursday and recommended that the country “apply for NATO membership immediately” to ensure the country’s security amid Russia’s military maneuvers in Ukraine and the Europe’s changing geopolitical and security landscape.
A formal announcement from Niinisto and Marin that Finland plans to apply for NATO membership is expected on Sunday, a day after Marin’s likely approval of the ruling Social Democratic party.
Neighboring Sweden will decide its NATO stance on Sunday at a meeting of the ruling Social Democratic Party led by Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.
US President Joe Biden held a joint appeal Friday with both Niinisto and Andersson where, according to a White House statement, he “emphasized his support for NATO’s open-door policy and for Finland’s and Sweden’s right to decide on their own future, foreign policy and security provisions.”