U.S. and Finnish Presidents Joe Biden and Sauli Niinistö, on Friday, March 4, during a meeting in Washington, agreed to begin the process to strengthen cooperation between the two countries in the field of security, said the White House.
The leaders committed to launching a process that will strengthen U.S.-Finnish security cooperation in close consultation with other Nordic countries.
The White House release said that the presidents also discussed the importance of the “open door” policy in admitting new members to the North Atlantic Alliance.
After the meeting with the American leader, Niinistö said that Finland is ready to start discussing joining the alliance as the attitude of the population towards this issue has changed.
“The situation has changed both in Finland and in Sweden. For the first time, the majority of people, judging by the polls, are in favour [of joining NATO], so we are open to discussing this with parliament,” he said.
Earlier, on February 28, the Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin had said that a parliamentary discussion is planned for March 1, also discussing a petition on the country’s possible entry into the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO).
According to a survey conducted by Helsinki based market research company Taloustutkimus oy commissioned by broadcaster Yle, 53% of Finnish residents currently support Finland’s accession to NATO. About 28% of residents were against it, and 19% found it difficult to answer. The study was conducted from 23 to February 25, and it involved just 1382 people aged 18 to 80 years.
On February 27, a petition with more than 56,000 signatures to conduct a referendum on the country’s accession to NATO, collected since February 21, was submitted to the country’s parliament for consideration.
Earlier, on January 11, Victoria Nuland, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State said that Washington was willing to discuss with Finland (and Sweden) the possibility to join NATO if it expresses its desire to do so. The Deputy Secretary of State also said that Finland, like the others which have expressed a desire to join the NATO alliance, ‘will be judged “by the high standards” of the alliance’.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, on January 13, said that Finland (and Sweden), if desired, would be able to quickly join NATO, as they meet many of the standards of the alliance.
“They meet NATO standards in most areas, they have well-organized, well-managed security and defense institutions. <…> That is, this [accession of countries to NATO] can happen very quickly if they make such a request, but in the end, it requires a political decision by Sweden and Finland, as well as 30 NATO allies,” he said during a joint press conference with Estonian President Alar Karis.
Later the Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said that Finland does not yet plan to discuss the possibility of joining the alliance.
The talks mark the first step to joining NATO which was otherwise considered traditional rhetoric.
The Russian Response
Russia has been constantly asking the NATO states to refrain from activities near Russian borders.
On November 30, Putin said that Russia was concerned about NATO military exercises, including unplanned ones, near its borders. He said that bombers with high-precision weapons were flying 20 km from the Russian border. He said that Russia is able to respond to the possible appearance of strike systems threatening Moscow near the Russian borders.
On 1st December, at the ceremony of presenting his credentials in the Kremlin, Putin had said “We propose to start substantive negotiations on this matter. I would like to emphasize that we need precisely legal, legal guarantees since Western colleagues did not fulfill their respective verbal obligations.”
On December 17, the Russian Foreign Ministry published draft agreements between Russia, the United States and NATO on security guarantees. The documents offered the alliance to refrain from conducting any military activity on the territory of Ukraine and other states of Eastern Europe, Transcaucasia and Central Asia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, on December 22, proposed to start substantive negotiations with the alliance on the non-expansion of NATO to the east. The head of state said that Russia did not require any special conditions, but considers it vital to take into account the Russian interests by other countries. He said that Moscow is looking forward to ‘constructive interaction’ for developing equal international cooperation.
Putin also said that Russia is taking adequate military-technical actions in response to external threats.
On 1st March, Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, at a press conference in Moscow, said that Sweden and Finland should not join NATO or the countries can count on military consequences.
“If they were to make such a decision, it would have serious military and political consequences, which would require our country to respond with mutual measures,” Zakharova emphasized, according to several Russian news agencies.
Zakharova further emphasized that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs sees the Swedish and Finnish governments’ commitment to a military non-aligned policy as an important factor in securing peace in northern Europe.