When Finnish president Sauli Niinisto phoned President Vladimir Putin on Saturday to notify the Russian leader of Finland’s imminent intent to apply for NATO membership, Niinisto remarked afterward he was surprised at how “calmly” Putin responded. “Altogether the discussion was very good,” Niinisto in a Sunday media interview. “I say calm and cool, and he did not repeat those threats he had earlier, and his people had been telling that is that if Finland joins – that means some kind of contra steps, military contra steps, whatever that meant – but he didn’t repeat it now.”
Continuing his ‘calm’ response, Putin explained his thinking on Sweden and Finland’s moves toward NATO before a summit of Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) heads in Moscow on Monday. Putin told the group of former Soviet allied nations that the Scandinavian countries’ membership bid “doesn’t pose a threat” but it may still “trigger a response”.
Putin on Finland and Sweden joining Nato:
“Russia has no problem with those states. So there is no direct threat from expansion to those countries. But deploying military infrastructure will provoke a response […] based on the threats they create for us” pic.twitter.com/3zo6kssfyk
— max seddon (@maxseddon) May 16, 2022
“Russia has no problem with those states. So there is no direct threat from expansion to those countries. But deploying military infrastructure will provoke a response,” Putin said.
“What kind [of response] it will be, we will decide depending on threats that are created against us,” Putin warned.
He underscored the danger of NATO’s “expansionist politics” which has led to Western alliance “to overstep its intended geographic boundaries” – while assuring CSTO allies which include Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, that the Kremlin will keep a close watch on the situation.
An official CSTO statement issued by the conference urged for “de-escalation tensions” in Eurasia:
“Realizing our responsibility for ensuring lasting peace in the Eurasian region, we emphasize the importance of de-escalating tensions in the continent and reaffirm our readiness for practical cooperation with NATO,” it states.
Following Finland’s president as well as the prime minister formally declaring application to NATO Sunday morning, within hours later Sweden’s government issued a similar statement, which indicated Stockholm will “shortly” notify Brussels. Crucially, Sweden has voiced repeatedly that it will not host NATO based or nuclear missiles on its soil – a key caveat it repeated Sunday.
Sweden on Monday formally affirmed the prior announcement in the following:
“The Government’s assessment is that NATO membership is the best way to protect Sweden’s security in light of the fundamentally changed security environment following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” the country said in a statement posted to its government website.
Bloomberg notes on Monday the move comes “after Andersson’s ruling party, the Social Democrats, decided to abandon their long-standing policy of military non-alignment after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February.” Last week the UK’s Boris Johnson signed a defense pact with Finland and Sweden, also as the US has said it will support their membership bids.
Also on Monday, Helsinki announced that Denmark and Iceland stand ready to support Finland and Sweden in any future scenario wherein they come under attack (their tiny militaries notwithstanding).