NATO membership not joint Finnish-Swedish decision: President Niinistö

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Finnish President Sauli Niinistö at a press conference in Russia in August 2014. (Ivan Sekretarev /AFP/Getty Images)
President Sauli Niinistö says that Finland and Sweden will make their own independent decisions about NATO membership. (Ivan Sekretarev /AFP/Getty Images)
President Sauli Niinistö has told Yle that there is no automatic link that would require Finland and Sweden to coordinate application for NATO membership. He also said that a decision on whether or not to join NATO would require a referendum in Finland.

According to a fresh government-commissioned, independent assessment of the effects of Finland’s possible NATO membership, it would be most beneficial for Finland if Sweden were to join at the same time.

Speaking with Yle on Saturday, President Sauli Niinistö stressed that both countries will make their own independent decision.

“We don’t have any kind of automatic, linked destiny that would mean that if one decides something that the other would immediately do the same. On the contrary, it looks like the decision-making process is quite tricky,” said Niinistö.

The President did concede that opinions in both countries influence the other, but he added that NATO membership for Finland would require a referendum on the issue.

Sweden will not take up NATO membership without a referendum. It is possible that the decision of the citizens of the two countries could differ, even if the political leaders of both countries were to back membership.

Niinistö described the issue of joining NATO as being at least as big a decision as was joining the EU – a decision that was taken only after a national referendum.

Sensitivities

Turned into the Finnish government on Friday, the assessment of the effects of Finland’s possible NATO membership paints a fairly dark picture of Russia. According to President Niinistö, Russian actions are marked by unpredictability. He does see, however, a new kind of dialogue between the United States and Russia on Syria as a positive sign.

The assessment cautions Finland that it should be prepared for harsh reaction from Russia if it were to take up membership. Niinistö agrees that the Russians have clearly shown that they consider NATO a threat.

“They do not want a threat spreading to their border,” Niinistö pointed out.

In a recent newspaper interview, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned Sweden of consequences of NATO membership. The Swedes bristled at Lavrov’s remarks.

President Niinistö told Yle that in this respect the Swedes are more sensitive than the Finns.

“In Finland, many people understand that if Russia saw Finland as a threat, then Russia would site military materials close to the border with Finland,” he explained.

President Niinistö added that his own view on NATO membership has not been changed by the new assessment report.

“My position is that we have no need to alter our current policy,” said Niinistö.

Related stories from around the North:

Denmark:  Nordics to step up security cooperation on perceived Russian threat, Yle News

Finland: Finland confirms 6th Russian airspace violation in just over a year, Yle News

Sweden: NATO agreement won’t bring nuclear weapons to Sweden, Radio Sweden

Russia:  New Russian spy ship to keep tabs on Norway, Barents Observer

Sweden:  New security landscape in the Arctic, Radio Sweden

United States: U.S. general says Alaska military cuts not final without Arctic plan, Alaska Public Radio Network

 

 

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