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Finnish President Sauli Niinisto informed Russian leader Vladimir Putin in a phone call that his Nordic country planned to apply for NATO membership, a move Putin warned his counterpart would be a mistake that could endanger the neighborly relations of the two nations.

“President Niinisto told President Putin how late 2021 Russian demands to prevent countries from joining NATO and Russia’s massive invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 have fundamentally changed the security environment of Finland,” the Finnish government said on May 14.

“The conversation was open and direct, but was conducted without escalation. It was considered important to avoid tension,” Niinisto said, according to the Finnish presidential office.

The Kremlin said Putin stressed in the appeal that abandoning Helsinki’s traditional policy of military neutrality “would be a mistake, because there is no threat to Finland’s security. Such a change in policy foreign affairs of the country could have a negative impact on Russian-Finnish relations.”

With Finland and neighboring Sweden appearing ready to apply for NATO membership, Russia said earlier on May 14 that its response to the Nordic countries joining the Western military alliance would depend on the kind of infrastructure NATO military which would be located on their territory.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko told reporters in Moscow that Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO membership would require a strategic change and that the Kremlin would take “adequate response measures” if the forces NATO nuclear weapons were approaching Russia’s borders.

Grushko added that Russia had no hostile intentions towards Finland and Sweden, where support for NATO membership in traditionally neutral countries increased after Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. in February. Russia cited Ukraine’s ambitions to join NATO as one of the main reasons for the outbreak of the war.

Niinisto this week endorsed joining NATO “without delay”, saying it would boost security in the country, which shares a 1,300 kilometer border with Russia.

Later on May 14, the country’s ruling Social Democratic Party announced its support for NATO membership, a step that would pave the way for an application for membership in the coming days.

The government’s decision to seek NATO membership requires parliamentary approval, which seems very likely.

The Swedish government has also presented plans to engage Sweden in applying for NATO membership, and is expected to announce a decision soon.

On May 13, US President Joe Biden held a joint call with Niinisto and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson in which he stressed “close security and defense cooperation” and supported the expected candidacies of the two Nordic states. to NATO.

“President Biden underscored his support for NATO’s open door policy and the right of Finland and Sweden to decide their own future, foreign policy and security arrangements,” the White House account said of the call.

NATO foreign ministers will meet in Berlin from May 14 for two days of talks that will include the potential membership of Finland and Sweden. Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde and Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto are expected to attend the meeting, which will also include US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Many members of the alliance have already expressed their support for the candidacies of Sweden and Finland.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, however, said on May 13 that he did not have a “positive opinion” of the Nordic countries’ membership, explaining his reservations by citing the alleged support of Sweden and other Scandinavian countries for the Kurdish and other militants that Turkey considers to be terrorists.

Ankara appeared to tone down its opposition somewhat on May 14, with a top foreign policy adviser to Erdogan telling Reuters that Turkey had not closed the door on countries’ potential membership bids.

He said, however, that Ankara wanted negotiations with the Nordic countries and to see them suppress any support for militants inside Turkey.

“We are not closing the door. But we are basically raising this issue as a national security issue for Turkey,” Ibrahim Kalin said in an interview in Istanbul.

The potential opposition fueled suggestions that Turkey could veto Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO membership applications, which to be approved would require the unanimous backing of all 30 NATO member states. alliance.

Hours after Erdogan’s comment, the White House and the Pentagon said they were “working to clarify Turkey’s position” regarding Sweden and Finland, while stressing that Ankara’s position within the nato would not change because of its position.

With reports from Reuters, dpa and AP

Betty K. Park