A statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry Friday voiced concern about what it described as efforts by the United States and some of its allies to “drag” Finland and Sweden into NATO and warned that Moscow would be forced to take retaliatory measures if they join the alliance.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said Saturday that “we’ve heard this before.”
“We don’t think that it calls for a military threat,” Haavisto said in an interview with the Finnish public broadcaster YLE. “Should Finland be NATO’s external border, it rather means that Russia would certainly take that into account in its own defense planning. I don’t see anything new as such” in the statement delivered by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Haavisto said.
Finland has a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) land border with Russia — the longest border shared by any European Union member state and Russia.
Haavisto’s words were echoed by the Finnish President Sauli Niinisto who said on Friday that he didn’t see the statement meaning Moscow was threatening Finland militarily but rather what kind of “countersteps” Russia would take should Finland join NATO.
Niinisto told Finnish media that he didn’t see Zakharova’s statement being any different from what she and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have said before on Finland’s possible membership in NATO. He also noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the issue with a similar tone already in 2016 during his Finland visit.
In Sweden, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson addressed Moscow’s statement in a joint news conference Friday with Sweden’s military commander Micael Byden.
“I want to be extremely clear. It is Sweden that itself and independently decides on our security policy line,” Andersson said.
Russia's statement came as Moscow’s relations with the West sank to the lowest point since the Cold War over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“It’s obvious that if Finland and Sweden join NATO, which is first of all a military organization, it will entail serious military-political consequences, which would require retaliatory steps by the Russian Federation,” Zakharova said at a news briefing Friday.
Zakharova argued that while every state has a sovereign right to choose ways of ensuring its security, all members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe confirmed their adherence to the principle that the security of one state shouldn’t be achieved to the detriment of another country’s security.
“We view Finland’s course for maintaining the policy of military non-alignment as an important factor contributing to stability and security in northern Europe and on the European continent as a whole,” Zakharova said, adding that “we can’t fail to see consistent efforts by NATO and some of its members, primarily the U.S., to drag Finland as well as Sweden into the alliance.” She noted an increase of NATO drills on their territories.
Though not members, Finland and Sweden closely cooperate with NATO, allowing, among other things, the alliance’s troops to exercise on their soil. Helsinki and Stockholm have also substantially intensified their bilateral defense cooperation in the past years, and secured close military cooperation with the United States, Britain and neighboring NATO member Norway.
Vladimir Isachenkov from Moscow contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine