Finland ‘prepared’ for threats but open to talks with Russia

BERLIN — Finland wants to keep channels of communication open with its neighbor Russia as it gets ready to apply for NATO membership, while at the same time being prepared for all scenarios, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said.

“We don’t expect anything, but we are prepared for everything,” Haavisto told POLITICO on Saturday ahead of a meeting with NATO foreign ministers in Berlin.

Haavisto said that his country is prepared for “traditional military threats” such as “violation of airspace or marine space.” Finland is also braced “for all kinds of hybrid and cyber threats during this period, particularly when we apply for the NATO membership, but we are not yet a member,” he said.  

Helsinki is expected to formally apply to join NATO in the coming days, after Finland’s leaders backed membership earlier this week and Finland’s ruling Social Democratic Party endorsed the decision on Saturday. 

The historic move met with dismay in Moscow. 

Responding to Finland’s NATO membership plans, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the Kremlin “will be forced to take retaliatory steps, both of a military-technical and other nature.” Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday told his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinistö that “rejecting the traditional policy of military neutrality would be wrong,” according to a Kremlin statement. 

Haavisto emphasized that despite Finland’s intent to join NATO, Helsinki wants to keep a line of communication to Russia, a country with which Finland shares a 1,300-kilometer border. 

“We want to maintain the border as peaceful” and “don’t want to bring any conflicts in the NATO area,” the minister said. “Our border has to work also in the future, so it’s very important always to communicate — even if you don’t agree.”

He said Finland has been actively providing assistance to Ukraine, while remaining in favor of open communications with Moscow as Russia’s war in Ukraine continues. “We need the situation that the channels for diplomacy are open,” he said. 

“We, of course, respect also the analysis done by Ukraine in this situation and the demands of Ukraine to control their own territory,” Haavisto said.

Sweden also is considering seeking NATO membership following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Both countries could formally apply as soon as next week if Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats back the move on Sunday.

While many NATO governments openly applaud Finland’s intent to join the alliance — with some Western leaders indicating that the country will receive security backup before its membership is ratified — the enthusiasm hasn’t been completely unanimous. All 30 NATO allies must agree on the accession of a new member.

But on Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that “right now, when it comes to Sweden and Finland, we follow the developments but not with a positive opinion.” 

Haavisto noted that he is in dialogue about Ankara’s reservations and talked on Friday with his Turkish counterpart, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, with another discussion set for Saturday. “We have actually been in a constant communication with Turkey,” the Finnish minister said.

Çavuşoğlu told reporters when arriving at the ministers’ gathering in Berlin that Turkey has been supporting NATO’s open-door policy “from the beginning.” Nevertheless, he said the alliance is “not only about the security, it’s also about the solidarity” and accused Finland and Sweden  — without providing proof — of “openly supporting” and “engaging” with Kurdish group PKK — considered a terror organization by the U.S. and the EU — and with YPG, its Syrian sister group.

“It is unacceptable and outrageous that our friends and allies are supporting this terrorist organization,” Çavuşoğlu said, without giving details.

A majority of the Turkish public, according to the minister, “are against the membership of those countries who are supporting PKK, YPG terrorist organization and they are asking us to block this membership — but these are the issues that we need to talk, of course, with our NATO allies as well as these countries.”

While declining to speculate on the Turkish leadership’s motives, Finland’s Haavisto stressed that governments “have the right, of course, to put their questions and raise their concerns.” Ankara’s current stance, he said, “might be a message also, not only to Finland, or Sweden, but also to other NATO countries.” 

Zia Weise contributed to this report.