An unarmed F15 fighter wing from the Oregon Air National Guard is coming to Finland in May for exercises at the request of the United States, foreign minister Timo Soini confirmed on Friday. He denied that there has been any secrecy about the visit.
Yle revealed the news of the fighter wing visit this week. The news came as a complete surprise to members of the parliamentary defence committee, except for its chair, former defence minister Ilkka Kanerva of the conservative National Coalition Party. Opposition MPs have called on Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö of Soini's Finns Party to explain at whose initiative the visit is being arranged.
"Niinistö could not or would not clarify"
According to Yle sources, minister Niinistö could not or would not clarify the issue when asked at a defence committee this week. The same went for his Special Adviser.
Earlier on Friday, Left Alliance defence committee member Markus Mustajärvi told Yle that the visit is being planned at the United States' initiative.
This was later confirmed by Soini, who said: "In foreign and security policy we of course have good cooperation with the US, which is in line with the government programme."
He said that the joint exercise between Finland's US-built Hornet fighter jets and the F15 fighters was intended to strengthen performance and capacity. Soini described the visit as more extensive than previous fighter jet visits to Finland.
Approved months ago
Finland is not a NATO member, but is an active participant in the military alliance's Partnership for Peace programme.
The foreign minister said the visit was approved last November at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Foreign and Security Policy (known as UTVA) led by President Sauli Niinistö.
Soini declined to say how precisely the exercise had been described at the meeting, noting that the content of UTVA meetings is secret.