Putin warns Finland that renouncing neutrality would be a mistake

The Russian president said that there is no threat to the security of Finnish territory
Russian President Vladimir Putin

KREMLIN/MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV  -   Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned his Finnish counterpart, Sauli Niinistö, that the Nordic country's renunciation of neutrality to join NATO would be a "wrong" decision.

"Putin stressed that renunciation of the traditional policy of military neutrality would be wrong, as there is no threat to Finland's security," the Kremlin said in a statement.

He stressed that such a change in Helsinki's foreign policy "may negatively influence Russian-Finnish relations, which for many years were characterised by a spirit of good neighbourliness and cooperation between partners, and had a mutually beneficial character".

Before launching the "special military operation" in Ukraine on 24 February, Putin had demanded that NATO end its enlargement into Eastern Europe and withdraw military infrastructure from countries that joined the bloc after 1997.

El presidente de Finlandia, Sauli Niinisto
REUTERS/FRANK AUGSTEIN - President Sauli Niinisto of Finland

The Kremlin stressed Saturday that the conversation had been "frank" and had focused on Finland's plans to apply for NATO membership, which could be formalised at the June allied summit in Madrid, and the situation in Ukraine.

"In particular, Putin shared his views on the negotiating process between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations, which has been practically frozen by Kiev, which shows no interest in a serious and constructive dialogue," the official note said.

Finland's decision to join the Atlantic Alliance has come as a bitter blow to Russia, which has already threatened Helsinki with "military-technical" measures.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexandr Grushko warned on Saturday that NATO could deploy nuclear weapons in Finland and Sweden once both countries formally join NATO.

Soldados finlandeses participan en el ejercicio mecanizado del Ejército Arrow 22 en la guarnición de Niinisalo en Kankaanp, Finlandia occidental, el 4 de mayo de 2022
LEHTIKUVA/HEIKKI SAUKKOMAA via AP - Finnish soldiers take part in the Army's mechanised exercise Arrow 22 at the Niinisalo garrison in Kankaanp, western Finland, May 4, 2022.

"It is enough to look at the map to understand how important allied enlargement is for Russia's security interests," he said.

He admitted that, for the moment, the Atlantic Alliance has not changed its nuclear policy, but its Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has stated that "nuclear weapons can be placed closer to Russia's border and Polish leaders have assured that they are ready to receive them".

"If these statements are confirmed in practice, we will of course have to react with preventive measures to ensure a safe deterrent," the diplomat warned.

Despite Russia's ongoing military intervention in Ukraine, Grushko considered it "impossible" to suspect Russia of hostile intentions against Finland and Sweden, accusations he linked to attempts to "demonise" Russia politically and militarily.

En esta foto de archivo tomada el 25 de octubre de 2021, el secretario general de la OTAN, Jens Stoltenberg (izquierda), y el presidente de Finlandia, Sauli Niinisto
AFP/VESA MOILANEN - In this file photo taken on October 25, 2021, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, right, are pictured here.

Moscow, which accuses Helsinki of threatening Europe's security by opening a new allied flank in the north of the continent, cut off electricity supplies to the neighbouring country on Saturday, allegedly over non-payment problems.

Finnish membership would double the Russian Federation's border with the Atlantic Alliance, as Russia shares a 1,300-kilometre border with the Scandinavian country.

Russia now borders the following Western bloc members: Poland, Norway, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as 49 kilometres of maritime border with the United States.