Finnish President Sauli Niinistö officially informed Vladimir Putin of the country’s application for NATO membership in a phone call on Saturday.
The militarily non-aligned Nordic country which shares a long border and history with Russia “will decide whether to apply for NATO membership in the coming days”, said a statement from the president’s office.
“President Niinistö told President Putin how late 2021 Russian demands to prevent countries from joining NATO and Russia’s massive invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 have fundamentally changed the security environment of Finland,” the statement said.
“The conversation was direct and direct and it went without escalation. Avoiding tensions was considered important,” President Niinistö said.
The Kremlin responded by saying that relations between the two neighbors could be “negatively affected” if Finland follows through on its NATO candidacy plans.
Niinistö has been Finland’s president since 2012 and is one of the few Western leaders to have had a regular dialogue with Putin over the past ten years.
He said he told the Russian leader that Finland was seeking to strengthen its security by joining NATO and still wanted to engage with Moscow in a practical and professional manner.
The phone call was made at the initiative of Finland, Niinistö’s office said.
The Kremlin press service said in a statement that Putin told Sauli Niinistö that Finland’s abandonment “of its traditional policy of military neutrality would be a mistake because there is no threat to Finland’s security. “.
“Such a change in the country’s foreign policy could negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations, which have been built in the spirit of good neighborliness and partnership for many years, and are mutually beneficial,” the statement added.
Finland shares a 1,340 kilometer border with Russia, the longest of any member of the European Union. The application for NATO membership is a historic development: Finland adopted neutrality after being defeated by the Soviet Union in World War II.
Power exports from Russia to Finland came to a halt overnight Friday after a Russian supplier announced the move earlier, an official with the Finnish power grid operator said.
The company responsible for Russian electricity sales to Finland, RAO Nordic, cited unpaid bills as the reason for the decision, although it was linked to the decision to join NATO.
Niinistö and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Thursday jointly endorsed Finland’s NATO application and recommended that the country “must apply for NATO membership without delay.”
“NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a NATO member, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance,” they said.
Meanwhile, neighboring Sweden is also expected to decide on Sunday whether it will apply to join NATO, at a meeting of the ruling Social Democratic Party led by Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.
US President Joe Biden held a joint call on Friday with Niinistö and Andersson. According to a White House statement, he “underscored his support for NATO’s open door policy and the right of Finland and Sweden to decide their own future, foreign policy and arrangements.” in matters of security”.