U.S. official criticises Russia for meddling in Finland’s NATO debate

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Finland has flirted with the notion of NATO membership for some time. Officially, the country maintains its non-aligned status. (YLE)
Finland has flirted with the notion of NATO membership for some time. Officially, the country maintains its non-aligned status. (YLE)

James J. Townsend, a senior defence official responsible for U.S. policy on NATO and Europe, has criticised Russian interference in Finland’s possible NATO membership.

James J. Townsend, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for European and NATO Policy, spoke frankly on a number of NATO-related issues on a visit to Finland.

With most foreign troops to be pulled from Afghanistan during the next year, Townsend asked for Finland’s continued support in the strife-torn country.

“We’re hoping that the international community, Finland and NATO members, NATO partners, all of us will remain engaged and in support of the Afghan government,” Townsend said.

The U.S. official is also well aware of the debate around possible Finnish NATO membership. Though he welcomes Finland into the military alliance, he says that membership is ultimately up to Finns themselves.

Russia, however, has threatened countermeasures, should Finland join NATO.

“It was disappointing to hear from Russian officials in this day and age. This is a time when nations should feel free to join whatever institution they feel is important to them,” Townsend commented.

Showing off military muscle

In mid-July, Russia staged its biggest military exercises since Soviet times. It will flex its military muscle again in September in joint military drills with Belarus, designed against possible U.S. threats.

“They seem to like to exercise, not just to make sure their troops are trained, but also to send a signal to the neighbourhood that they are still here, and that they are still watching things across their border. And that’s one way they signal that, which I think is a shame,” said Townsend

Townsend said that the US is not averse to sending out signals of its own.

“I think also it is important for us to signal to Russia or anyone else that the United States has very close friends up here,” he concluded.

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