Finland's president informs Putin of NATO membership bid

(FILES) This file photo taken on July 27, 2017 shows Finland's President Sauli Niinisto (R) and Russian President Vladimir Putin shaking hands after a press conference in Punkaharju hotel in Savonlinn
(FILES) This file photo was taken on July 27, 2017 shows Finland's President Sauli Niinisto (R) and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands after a press conference in Punkaharju hotel in Savonlinna, Finland. (File photo: AFP)
HELSINKI — Finnish President Sauli Niinisto spoke with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Saturday about the Nordic country's application for NATO membership, expected to be announced this weekend, his office said.اضافة اعلان

The phone call, which was "initiated by Finland... was direct and straightforward and it was conducted without aggravations. Avoiding tensions was considered important," Niinisto was quoted as saying in a statement by his office. 

But the Kremlin responded by saying that Putin viewed any end to Finland's military neutrality as a "mistake."

"Putin stressed that the end of the traditional policy of military neutrality would be a mistake since there is no threat to Finland's security," it said in a statement.

"Such a change in the country's political orientation can have a negative impact on Russian-Finnish relations developed over years in a spirit of good neighborliness and cooperation between partners," the Kremlin added.

Finland is expected to officially announce its NATO membership bid on Sunday.

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto underlined that it was "very important that we communicate with our neighbor", even if "we don't ask any permission for our political steps".

The minister was speaking from Berlin, where he was seeking to remove a potential barrier to his country's accession plans — Turkey.

Ukraine invasion swung opinion

Accusing Finland and Sweden of harboring "terrorist organizations", Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said he did "not have a positive opinion" on their membership bids.

Arriving for talks in Berlin with NATO counterparts as well as Haavisto and Sweden's foreign minister, Turkey's Mevlut Cavusoglu reiterated the accusations against the Nordic countries.

But he did signal readiness for discussions.

"A big majority of the Turkish people are against the membership of those countries who are supporting PKK terrorist organization ... but these are the issues that we need to talk of course with our NATO allies as well as these countries," he said. 

The PKK is the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which has been outlawed in Turkey and designated a terrorist organization in the UK, EU, and the US.

Haavisto meanwhile said he was "confident that in the end we will find a solution and Finland (and) Sweden will become members of NATO".

Moscow's February 24 invasion of Ukraine has swung political and public opinion in Finland and neighboring Sweden in favour of NATO membership as a deterrent against Russian aggression. 

Both countries have long cooperated with the Western military alliance and are expected to be able to join it quickly. 

Sweden, like Finland traditionally non-aligned, is also expected to announce its own NATO membership bid in the coming days. 

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has repeatedly said they would be welcomed "with open arms".

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said Saturday that her country was "prepared for different types of action" from Moscow.

"But there is no information indicating Russia will initiate military action against Finland," she said.

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