San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)

Nation will apply to join NATO, president tells Putin

- By Jari Tanner Jari Tanner is an Associated Press writer.

HELSINKI — Finnish President Sauli Niinisto told his Russian counterpar­t Vladimir Putin Saturday that the militarily non-aligned Nordic country that shares a long border and history with Russia “will decide to apply for NATO membership in the coming days.”

Niinisto’s office said in a statement that the Finnish head of state told Putin in a phone conversati­on how thoroughly Finland’s security environmen­t had changed after Moscow’s Feb. 24 invasion on Ukraine, and pointed to Russia’s demands on Finland refraining from seeking membership in NATO, the 30-member Western military alliance.

“The discussion (with Putin) was straightfo­rward and unambiguou­s and was held without exaggerati­on. Avoiding tensions was considered important,” said Niinisto, Finland’s president since 2012 and one of few Western leaders who has held regular dialogue with Putin over the past ten years.

Niinisto pointed out that had already told Putin at their first meeting in 2012 that “each independen­t nation would maximize its own security.”

“That is still the case. By joining NATO, Finland will strengthen its own security and assume its responsibi­lities. It is not something away from anybody,” Niinisto said.

He stressed that Finland, despite its likely future membership in NATO, wants to continue to deal with Russia bilaterall­y in “practical issues generated by the border neighborho­od” and hope to engage with Moscow “in a profession­al manner.”

Putin warned his Finnish counterpar­t that relations between the two neighbors could be “negatively affected“if Finland follows through with plans to apply for NATO membership.

The Kremlin’s press service said in a statement that Putin told Niinisto Finland’s abandonmen­t “of its traditiona­l policy of military neutrality would be an error since there are no threats to Finland’s security.”

“Such a change in the country’s foreign policy could negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations, which had been built in the spirit of good neighborli­ness and partnershi­p for many years, and were mutually beneficial,” the statement added.

Finland shares an 830-mile border with Russia, the longest by any European Union member.

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