Finland’s leaders say they will decide whether to join NATO despite warnings from Russia against joining the Western alliance, as the military standoff on Ukraine’s border has heightened tensions between Moscow, the US and Washington’s European allies.
“Finland’s room to maneuver and freedom of choice also include the possibility of military alignment and applying for NATO membership, should we ourselves so decide,” President Sauli Niinistö said in a New Year’s address over the weekend.
Niinistö also urged the European Union to become actively involved in curbing Russian aggression, saying: “In this situation, Europe cannot just listen in.”
Prime Minister Sanna Marin echoed Niinisto’s sentiments in her comments, saying Finland, which shares a border with Russia, will make its own security decisions.
“We have shown that we have learnt from the past,” she said. “We will not let go of our room for maneuver.”
Putin has demanded the United States and its allies provide security guarantees that Ukraine and other former Soviet bloc nations will not be allowed to become NATO members.
Russia’s foreign ministry last week accused NATO of pursuing Sweden and Finland to join the military alliance.
“It is quite obvious that the ascension of Finland and Sweden to NATO would have serious military and political consequences that would require an adequate response from Russia,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at the time.
“The policy of not being part of any alliances, traditionally pursued by Stockholm and Helsinki, is viewed by Moscow as an important factor in ensuring stability in northern Europe,” she continued.
The two Nordic countries held a policy of neutrality during the Cold War (Sweden was also neutral in both World War I and World War II), but recent aggressive military movements on Ukraine’s border by Moscow and Putin’s demand for security guarantees may have tipped the scales.
”We must have a rules-based world order, where we have international law and each country has the right to make its own security policy choices,” Swedish foreign minister Ann Linde said last month.
Putin is pushing for the security guarantees even as he has amassed thousands of troops and military equipment along the Ukrainian border, a move the West views as a potential prelude to an invasion.
President Biden has spoken to both Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky twice in the last month about the tense situation.
In his Sunday call with Zelensky, the president told him that the “United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine,” according to a readout provided by the White House.
Biden also “reaffirmed” the US’ commitment to “Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Talks on the security guarantees are scheduled for Jan. 10 in Geneva between Washington and Moscow officials.
With Post wires