HELSINKI: Finnish President Sauli Niinisto spoke with his Rus­sian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Saturday about the Nordic country’s application for Nato membership, expected to be announced this weekend, his office said.

The phone call, which was “initiated by Finland... was direct and straightforward and it was conducted without aggravations. Avoiding tensions was considered important,” Mr Niinisto was quoted as saying in a statement by his office. However, the Kremlin responded by saying that Putin viewed any end to Finland’s military neutrality as a “mistake”.

“Putin stressed that the end of the traditional policy of military neutrality would be a mistake since there is no threat to Finland’s security. Such a change in the country’s political orientation can have a negative impact on Russian-Finnish relations developed over years in a spirit of good neighbourliness and cooperation between partners,” the Kremlin added.

Russia terms end to Finnish policy of neutrality ‘a mistake’

Finland is expected to officially announce its Nato membership bid on Sunday and it will be discussed by parliament on Monday.

The Nordic country and eurozone member “wants to take care of the practical questions arising from being a neighbour of Russia in a correct and professional manner,” said President Niinisto, who has communicated regularly with Putin in recent years.

Moscow’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine has swung political and public opinion in Finland and neighbouring Sweden in favour of Nato membership as a deterrent against Russian aggression. Both countries have long cooperated with the Western military alliance and are expected to be able to join it quickly.

Sweden, like Finland traditionally neutral, is also expected to announce its own Nato membership bid in the coming days.

Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg has repeatedly said they would be welcomed “with open arms”.

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin signalled that a large majority of the leadership of her Social Democrat party were in favour of Nato membership. “Hopefully, we can send our applications next week together with Sweden. They will have their own process, but I, of course, hope that we will make the decisions at the same time and send our applications together,” Marin told a news conference.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2022

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