Finland joining NATO would alienate Russia – President Niinisto
“It is very obvious that if Finland joins NATO, that would undoubtedly harm our relations with Russia. You have to keep in mind that 1,300 kilometers is a long, long border, and you just don’t keep it closed. On the contrary, it’s a living border,” the politician, who has led his country since 2012, told the Washington Post in Helsinki.
Niinisto’s comments echoed that of the Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, who told the Post that “from our point of view, but also from a Russian point of view, it’s the most stable and least problematic frontier they have [with Finland], and I believe they want to keep it that way as long as they have no reason to believe that the Finnish territory would be used for hostile action.”
Still, the center-right president accused Moscow of entering Finnish airspace five times over the summer – “The Russians want to show ‘we are here.’” – and expressed a cautious lament that Helsinki did not join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization two decades ago.
“It would have been a very easy step [Finland joining NATO]. Russia was very weak at that time,” said the 66-year-old. “It was an opportunity, undoubtedly.”
Niinisto said he regretted the downturn in previously booming cross-border tourism and trade, since the West imposed sanctions over Crimea’s integration into Russia, and Moscow’s purported meddling in eastern Ukraine. Moscow’s counter-sanctions have also considerably hurt food imports from Finland.
“The sanctions mean that the business environment gets cautious. That has meant a weakening ruble. That has meant weakening GDP for Russia. That has meant the purchasing power of ordinary people has been eroded, and that has meant something for Finnish exports and not as many Russian tourists coming to do their weekly shopping in Finland,” said Niinisto.
Niinisto has been facing calls for further military integration with NATO from party rival Alexander Stubb, the country’s Prime Minister since earlier this year.
“We are not part of NATO. But we are part of the European Union and part of the West. I would answer your question by explaining how we see our security at the moment. It’s a balance. We still have conscription. We have a strong army. It’s 250,000 men,” said Niinisto.
Still, the politician insisted that the current diplomatic framework, and generally stable relations with Moscow, mean that his country faces no real risks from the east.
“We are increasing our defense budget. We are cooperating with Sweden very deeply and that is developing very fast. We are advanced partners of NATO. And in the end I like to mention the E.U. dimension. We all know according to the Lisbon Treaty we have given a guarantee that we will help member states if they face severe problems.”
Niinisto, however, refused to draw comparisons between his country’s position as a non-NATO member and Ukraine’s “huge price for leaning toward the West but not being protected under Article 5 [of NATO].”
“They were not members of the E.U. A big part of the problem Ukraine faces is due to their own inability to build up a democratic society. That is a huge problem. If you look at Finland, things are totally otherwise, so you can’t make any comparison to Ukraine,” the Finnish president stressed.