Finland’s president has told Vladimir Putin of the Nordic country’s plans to apply for Nato membership as a top Turkish aide downplayed fears that Ankara could torpedo its bid.
Sauli Niinistö called Putin on Saturday to explain how Russia’s demand in late 2021 that Finland and Sweden not apply for Nato membership followed by its invasion of Ukraine in February had fundamentally altered the security environment.
“The conversation was direct and straightforward and it was conducted without aggravations. Avoiding tensions was considered important,” Niinistö said.
Putin responded that Finland would be wrong to abandon its neutrality and that seeking membership of the western defence alliance would damage relations between the two countries.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused public support for Nato membership to surge in Finland and Sweden, forcing politicians to undertake urgent security reviews.
Finland’s government will decide on Sunday to apply for Nato membership with the formal application sent some time next week after parliament debates it on Monday.
Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats will make a decision on Sunday with everything pointing to an application to join, a decision the government could take on Monday.
A joint application could be sent on Tuesday or Wednesday when Niinistö makes a state visit to Stockholm.
The first hiccup in the application process came on Friday when Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan referred to “Scandinavian countries” as “some kind of guest house for terrorist organisations”, and said about the potential applications that Ankara could not “look positively at this”.
İbrahim Kalın, Turkey’s presidential spokesman, told Reuters on Saturday that it was seeking negotiations with Sweden and others over its concerns and that it was “not closing door” to their membership bids.
Kalın said that Sweden, in particular, needed to take action against the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), an armed militia that has waged a decades-long armed insurgency against the Turkish state and is classified as a terrorist organisation by Ankara, the US and the EU. Sweden has a large Kurdish minority.
“What needs to be done is clear: they have to stop allowing PKK outlets, activities, organisations, individuals and other types of presence to . . . exist in those countries,” Kalın said.
Niinistö told state broadcaster Yle: “I wouldn’t speculate at all that this would mean Turkey throwing a spanner in the works for good. Until now Turkey’s message to us has been completely the opposite.”
“This is sure to lead to discussion, seeing as the US appears to have reacted,” he said.
Nato foreign ministers will meet in Berlin this weekend and the US said late on Friday that it would seek to “clarify” Turkey’s position.
Niinistö spoke to Joe Biden on Friday together with Swedish prime minister Magdalena Andersson. The Finnish president said after the call: “I went through Finland’s next steps towards Nato membership. Finland deeply appreciates all the necessary support from the US.”
In his call with Putin, Niinistö said that Finland was maximising its security. “By joining Nato, Finland strengthens its own security and assumes its responsibility. It is not away from anyone else. Also in the future, Finland wants to take care of the practical questions arising from being a neighbour of Russia in a correct and professional manner,” Finland’s presidential office said.
Any application by Finland and Sweden would need to be ratified by all 30 countries, a process that could take six to 12 months. Swedish and Finnish officials said on Friday that their contacts with Turkish ministers and other officials had been positive until now.