Finland says it could join NATO despite pressure from Russia


Finland has said it could join NATO in defiance of Russia’s warning that the alliance should not be allowed to expand any further to the east.

Sauli Niinisto, president of the Nordic country, made the remark during a New Year address on Saturday which seemed designed to antagonise Vladimir Putin.

Putin had previously demanded cast iron guarantees that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO, saying the alliance’s eastwards expansion is a threat to his border. 

That prompted Niinisto’s remark, which appears designed as a warning to Russia not to threaten neighbouring states.

Finland could request to join NATO, its president has said, in defiance of a warning from Vladimir Putin that the alliance should not be allowed to expand any further east

Sauli Niinisto, president of Finland, made the remark during his New Year address as he also urged the EU to take a tougher stance on Russia's threats to member states

Sauli Niinisto, president of Finland, made the remark during his New Year address as he also urged the EU to take a tougher stance on Russia’s threats to member states

Finland shares a lengthy land border with Russia, and two countries fought a short but bloody war over it between 1939 to 1940 which saw Finland inflict heavy losses on Soviet forces. 

‘Finland’s room to manoeuvre and freedom of choice also include the possibility of military alignment and of applying for NATO membership, should we ourselves so decide,’ Mr Niinisto said. 

He also called on the EU to take a more active role in deterring Russian aggression, seemingly a rebuke to Germany which for years has taken a soft line with Moscow because the two share close economic ties.

‘In this situation Europe cannot just listen in,’ Niinisto added. 

‘The sovereignty of several member states, also Sweden and Finland, has been challenged from outside the Union. 

‘This makes the EU an involved party. The EU must not settle merely with the role of a technical coordinator of sanctions.’

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, successor to Angela Merkel, took a markedly more moderate line on Russia in his own address.

‘We are currently facing new challenges regarding Ukraine. The inviolability of borders is precious, and is not negotiable’, he said, without outlining what measures Russia will face if it violates those borders. 

Finland and Russia fought a brief but bloody war over their shared border between 1939 and 1940, during which Finland inflicted heavy losses on the Soviets (file image)

Finland and Russia fought a brief but bloody war over their shared border between 1939 and 1940, during which Finland inflicted heavy losses on the Soviets (file image)

Putin has demanded cast iron guarantees that Ukraine is barred from joining NATO, saying the expansion of the alliance poses a grave threat to Moscow

Putin has demanded cast iron guarantees that Ukraine is barred from joining NATO, saying the expansion of the alliance poses a grave threat to Moscow

It comes amid border tensions between Russia and Ukraine, after Putin parked 100,000 troops, tanks and artillery pieces on his side of the border in what the Pentagon believes is an invasion force.

The Kremlin has denied this, saying the troops are there to deter western aggression while pointing to military drills carried out nearby.

Joe Biden has shared two phone calls with Putin to try and defuse the crisis, with the White House saying he warned the Russian strongman that any invasion will be met with crippling economic sanctions. 

High level negotiations are also taking place between Russian and American diplomats, over a list of ‘red lines’ published by Moscow.  

As well as demanding that NATO expansion be halted, Moscow also wants offensive forces withdrawn from all former Soviet states and new agreements on the deployment of short-range missiles.

NATO has described that position as a non-starter, but says it is speaking to member states to try and reach some form of compromise. 

It comes after America allowed a number of Cold War-era arms control treaties, including the Intermediate Range Forces Treaty, to expire – saying they were no longer fit for purpose because they do not include China.

New START, another nuclear forces treaty, was also due to expire but has been granted a temporary extension to 2026.

Putin lamented the loss of arms control agreements between the world superpowers, and has been lobbying for replacements.

Meanwhile Chinese think-tanks have also conceded that some form of arms control agreement that includes Beijing is on the cards, but not said what form it will take or when it might be signed.

Russia currently has around 100,000 troops stationed on the border with Ukraine, which the Pentagon has warned constitutes an invasion force

Russia currently has around 100,000 troops stationed on the border with Ukraine, which the Pentagon has warned constitutes an invasion force

Ukraine is pressing its western allies to send reinforcements, warning that it will be unable to withstand a Russian attack (pictured, Russian troops in camp)

Ukraine is pressing its western allies to send reinforcements, warning that it will be unable to withstand a Russian attack (pictured, Russian troops in camp)

Russian forces near the border include large numbers of tanks and artillery that Washington fears would be used in a lightning-fast assault (pictured)

Russian forces near the border include large numbers of tanks and artillery that Washington fears would be used in a lightning-fast assault (pictured)

In the meantime, all three superpowers are beefing up their armed forces and taking an increasingly belligerent stance on the world stage.

Aside from Putin massing his forces in eastern Europe, Xi Jinping has been menacing the island of Taiwan – threatening to ‘reunify’ it with the mainland by force.

That has prompted America to seek out new allies in the region and share nuclear technology with the, including the AUKUS pact which will deliver nuclear submarines to Australia, and the Quad pact with India and Japan. 

 But, in a piece of good news that emerged on Monday, five major world powers – the US, China, Russia, France and the UK – issued a new pledge to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and to avoid using them in conflict.  

The commitment came in a rare joint statement on Monday ahead of a review of a key nuclear treaty later this year. 

‘We believe strongly that the further spread of such weapons must be prevented,’ said permanent UN Security Council members China, France, Russia, the UK and United States, adding: ‘A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.’

The statement was issued after the latest review of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) – which first came into force in 1970 – was postponed from January 4 to later in the year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Putting aside current differences that have caused major tensions between both China and Russia and their Western partners, the five world powers said they saw ‘the avoidance of war between nuclear-weapon states and the reduction of strategic risks as our foremost responsibilities.’

‘As nuclear use would have far-reaching consequences, we also affirm that nuclear weapons – for as long as they continue to exist – should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war,’ they said according to the English text released by the White House.

The powers added: ‘We each intend to maintain and further strengthen our national measures to prevent unauthorised or unintended use of nuclear weapons.’

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