Finnish President Sauli Niinisto spoke on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday about his country’s intention to apply to join NATO, his chancellery said.
“The conversation was frank and open. The position that it is important to avoid tensions was taken,” the presidency quoted Niinisto and added that the conversation was initiated by the Finnish leader.
However, the Kremlin has said a version that Russian President Putin told his Finnish counterpart Niinisto on Saturday that Finland’s intention to give up military neutrality would be a “mistake”.
“Putin stressed that ending the traditional policy of military neutrality would be a mistake, because no one threatens Finnish security,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
Mr Niinisto said he told Putin when the two first met in 2012 that “each independent state seeks to maximize its security”.
“It just came to our knowledge at that time. By joining NATO, Finland will increase its security and take responsibility,” the Finnish leader said.
He stressed that Finland, despite its plans to join NATO, wanted to continue to deal with Russia with “practical issues arising from its neighborhood on the border” on a bilateral basis. Helsinki also hopes to cooperate “professionally” with Moscow, the president added.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Finland’s political and public opinion on NATO membership has changed dramatically: most Finns now support it as a deterrent against NATO. aggression from its powerful eastern neighbour.
On Thursday, Niinisto and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin voiced support for the country’s NATO membership.
A joint statement by the President and Prime Minister, published on the Presidency’s website, stressed that “NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security”.
The Kremlin, for its part, said neighboring Finland’s plans to join NATO would “undoubtedly” pose a threat to Russia and threatened to retaliate.
Sweden, which like neighboring Finland has traditionally pursued a policy of neutrality, is also expected to announce its intention to join the Western Alliance in the coming days.
According to Helsinki, Niinisto told Putin “how Russia’s demands at the end of 2021 to prevent countries from joining NATO, as well as Russia’s massive invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, have changed the security environment in Finland”.
On Thursday, Niniisto told Moscow: “You caused it. Look in the mirror.”
Helsinki is expected to officially announce its intention to join the Alliance on Sunday. If so, Parliament will hold a new debate on the matter on Monday.
Source: The Delfi