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Finland Downplays Turkey’s NATO Concerns, Informs Russia of Plan

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 5/14/2022 Kati Pohjanpalo
A soldier from Finnish Defence Forces holding a PK machine gun during the Finnish Army Arrow 22 training exercise, with participating forces from the U.K., Latvia, U.S. and Estonia, in Niinisalo, Finland, on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. Swedes and Finns are increasingly in favor of joining the NATO defense bloc after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, adding pressure on the countries' leaders to change long-standing policies of military non-alignment. © Bloomberg A soldier from Finnish Defence Forces holding a PK machine gun during the Finnish Army Arrow 22 training exercise, with participating forces from the U.K., Latvia, U.S. and Estonia, in Niinisalo, Finland, on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. Swedes and Finns are increasingly in favor of joining the NATO defense bloc after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, adding pressure on the countries' leaders to change long-standing policies of military non-alignment.

(Bloomberg) -- Finnish President Sauli Niinisto phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin to say the Nordic country plans to seek NATO membership in the near future and downplayed concerns Turkey may block Finland and its Nordic neighbor Sweden from joining the military alliance.

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The conversation with Putin “was direct and straight-forward and it was conducted without aggravations,” Niinisto said in a statement. The move would be a “mistake because there are no threats to Finland’s security,” Putin told his Finnish counterpart, according to a statement from the Kremlin, adding that it could harm relations between the countries.

A decision by Finland and Sweden on applying for NATO entry may come as early as Sunday, with the Social Democrats, the biggest party in parliament in Helsinki, giving it a green light on Saturday. The two nations have pushed forward with plans to join the alliance after Russia invaded Ukraine. Finland has the longest land border with Russia of any European Union member.

Earlier on Saturday, Niinisto pushed back against suggestions Turkey would prevent his country and Sweden from joining the military alliance, given that the US supports the move.

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto later expressed confidence that Finland and Sweden will join even if there may be delays in the process. Arriving for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin, he said he had spoken on Friday with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu “to take the tensions down.”

“We’ll also meet today and I’m sure we’ll find a solution to these items,” he told reporters. “Each and every member country of NATO of course has this possibility to prolong the process,” he added. “But I’m confident that in the end we will find a solution and Finland and Sweden will become members of NATO.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday Turkey doesn’t favor Sweden and Finland joining, citing concerns over Kurdish “terrorists.” The North Atlantic Treaty Organization welcomes new members unanimously.


Video: Finland: ‘Patience’ Needed After Turkey Opposes Country Joining NATO (Newsweek)

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“I wouldn’t speculate at all that this would mean Turkey throwing a spanner in the works for good,” Niinisto said in an interview broadcast on Finland’s YLE TV1 on Saturday. “Until now, Turkey’s message to us has been completely the opposite,” he said, adding that “this is sure to lead to discussion, seeing as the US appears to have reacted.”

Turkey has long complained of insufficient cooperation from NATO and European allies in its fight with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is labeled as a terrorist organization by the US and EU. Erdogan singled out Sweden and Netherlands as havens for Kurdish militants.

Niinisto, who on Friday spoke with US President Joe Biden and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson on a joint call, said Erdogan’s comments seemed to have taken Biden by surprise. The world’s strongest military power had later asked Turkey to clarify its comments, the Finnish leader said.

Read a QuickTake on How Russia Pushed Finland and Sweden Toward NATO

Niinisto’s remarks echo those of Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde, who said Turkey hadn’t conveyed any concerns, and signaled the US would likely back a possible decision to join NATO.

“If we decide on that option I think we would get very, very strong support from large, important countries that are members, and that Turkey is interested in having good relationships with,” Linde told Swedish Radio on Friday.

Turkey is “not closing the door” to Sweden and Finland, but seeks talks on the national security issue, Reuters reported Ibrahim Kalin, the Turkish president’s top foreign policy adviser, as saying. 

Turkey’s concerns are likely to be addressed, according to Anna Wieslander, director for Northern Europe at the Atlantic Council.

“I don’t foresee that they will in the end make it impossible for Sweden and Finland to join NATO,” she said in an interview in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, on Saturday. Their accession “will increase security not only in northern Europe but for the alliance as a whole and Turkey knows that,” she said.

(Updates with Finnish foreign minister from fifth paragraph)

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