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6 Feb, 2023 17:01

NATO aspirant to abandon neighbor – media

With Türkiye blocking Swedish admission, Finnish media reports Helsinki might proceed on its own
NATO aspirant to abandon neighbor – media

Having declared that Finland and Sweden would join NATO together, the Finnish government is now preparing to leave its neighbor behind, the daily Iltalehti reported on Monday, citing insider sources. 

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto called the leaders of political parties to his Mantyniemi residence last Thursday to discuss the situation, the outlet said. At the meeting, it was agreed to follow a “unified line” in public appearances. Privately, however, Finland is ready to proceed alone.

“We are Russia’s border neighbor. Sweden’s geopolitical position is quite different from ours,” one source told Iltalehti, explaining the rush.

Last month, Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said in an interview that Helsinki should explore options if Ankara continued to block Stockholm, but quickly walked back the comments to stay in line with official government policy.

According to Iltalehti’s source, only the Left Alliance has any objections to Finland proceeding without Sweden. Since they only have 16 seats in the Finnish parliament, their opposition is irrelevant, the source said.

NATO’s official position is that both countries should be admitted at the same time. Their applications have been ratified by all members except for Hungary – which is expected to approve them next month – and Türkiye. Ankara has said it would greenlight Finland, but that Sweden is another matter. 

Sweden and Finland announced last year they would abandon their historic neutrality and apply to join the US-led military bloc, citing the escalating conflict in Ukraine. Russia described their move as a “serious mistake with long-lasting ramifications.”

NATO has expressed a preference for admitting both countries together. The government in Ankara objected, though, citing ongoing issues with Stockholm including an arms embargo, Kurdish activists Türkiye has classified as terrorists, and – most recently – a publicity stunt involving the burning of a Koran.

Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said last week that Stockholm failed to abide by last summer’s deal to go after the Kurdish “terrorists,” and that its response to the Koran burning outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm was “completely unacceptable.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom is scheduled to visit Finland on Tuesday to discuss options, according to Iltalehti. The outlet’s sources in Helsinki hope that Sweden’s new anti-terrorism laws – scheduled to take effect in June – might persuade Erdogan to relent.