BERLIN — Finland wants to keep communication channels open with neighbor Russia as it prepares to apply for NATO membership, while preparing for all scenarios, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said. .
“We don’t expect anything, but we are ready for anything,” Haavisto told POLITICO on Saturday ahead of a meeting with NATO foreign ministers in Berlin.
Haavisto said his country was prepared for “traditional military threats” such as “violation of air space or sea space.” Finland is also prepared “for all sorts of hybrid and cyber threats during this time, especially when we apply for NATO membership, but we are not yet a member,” he said.
Helsinki is expected to formally apply for NATO membership in the coming days, after Finnish leaders backed membership earlier this week and Finland’s ruling Social Democratic Party approved the decision on Saturday.
This historic decision caused consternation in Moscow.
Responding to Finland’s NATO membership plans, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the Kremlin “will be forced to take retaliatory measures, both military and technical and otherwise.” Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinistö on Saturday that “rejecting the traditional policy of military neutrality would be a mistake,” according to a Kremlin statement.
Haavisto pointed out that despite Finland’s intention to join NATO, Helsinki wants to keep a line of communication with Russia, a country with which Finland shares a 1,300 kilometer border.
“We want to keep the border peaceful” and “don’t want to bring conflicts into the NATO area,” the minister said. “Our border has to work in the future too, so it’s very important to always communicate – even if you don’t agree.”
He said Finland was actively providing assistance to Ukraine, while remaining supportive of open communications with Moscow as Russia’s war in Ukraine continues. “We need a situation where the channels of diplomacy are open,” he said.
“We of course also respect Ukraine’s analysis in this situation and Ukraine’s demands to control its own territory,” Haavisto said.
Sweden is also considering applying for NATO membership following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Both countries could formally apply as early as next week if Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats back the decision on Sunday.
While many NATO governments openly applaud Finland’s intention to join the alliance – with some Western leaders indicating that the country will receive security support before its membership is ratified – the enthusiasm has not been completely unanimous. The 30 NATO allies must agree on the accession of a new member.
But on Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that “at the moment, as far as Sweden and Finland are concerned, we are following developments but not with a positive opinion.”
Haavisto noted that he was in dialogue over Ankara’s reservations and spoke with his Turkish counterpart, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, on Friday, with another discussion scheduled for Saturday. “We have actually been in constant communication with Turkey,” the Finnish minister said.
Çavuşoğlu told reporters upon arriving at the ministers’ meeting in Berlin that Turkey supported NATO’s open-door policy “from the beginning”. Nonetheless, he said the alliance is “not just a matter of security, it’s also a matter of solidarity” and accused Finland and Sweden – without providing evidence – of “openly supporting” and “engage” with the Kurdish group PKK – considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the EU – and with YPG, its Syrian sister group.
“It is unacceptable and outrageous that our friends and allies support this terrorist organization,” Çavuşoğlu said, without giving details.
A majority of Turkish public opinion, according to the minister, “is against the membership of countries that support the PKK, the YPG terrorist organization and they ask us to block this membership – but these are the issues we need to talk about, of course, with our NATO allies as well as with these countries.
While refusing to speculate on the motives of the Turkish leadership, Haavisto of Finland stressed that governments “have the right, of course, to ask their questions and raise their concerns.” Ankara’s current position, he said, “could also be a message, not only for Finland or Sweden, but also for other NATO countries.”
Zia Weise contributed to this report.