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Niinistö to discuss defence cooperation with Johnson, other European leaders in London

The summit comes as Finland and Sweden join a Nato-led military exercise in Norway, the largest of its kind in 30 years.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Sauli Niinistö at the Glasgow Climate Change Conference (COP26) on 15 November 2021. Image: Robert Perry / EPA

President Sauli Niinistö heads to London on Monday for a two-day summit conference of the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), his office announced late Saturday.

Finland and Sweden are the only non-Nato countries in the 10-nation grouping, which was set up in 2012 as a framework for a possible future military force.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the meeting to discuss the war in Ukraine and the security situation in Europe.

According to Johnson's office, he will host the group for dinner at his country house west of London, Chequers, on Monday evening. The PM is then to meet with "the leaders of Finland and Sweden" at Downing Street in London on Tuesday afternoon. Niinistö will also hold other one-on-one talks.

The meetings in London and Chequers are aimed at " shoring up European security and increasing defensive military support to Ukraine" and "work[ing] together on greater resilience against hostile state threats," it said.

The JEF is a British-led multilateral framework for defence cooperation that includes the five Nordic countries, the three Baltic states and the Netherlands. All are EU members except the UK, Iceland and Norway. The group says that its main operating environment is Northern Europe and the Baltic Sea region.

The leaders are "expected to agree to an enhanced programme of integrated JEF exercises and activities at sea, on land and in the air in the High North, North Atlantic and Baltic Sea the member nations deepen military ties and interoperability," the British government said.

Finnish conscripts join Nato-led exercise in Norway

The summit comes as the Nato-led Exercise Cold Response begins in northern Norway. More than 30,000 troops from 27 nations, including the UK, Finland and Sweden, are to practice combat in extreme temperatures. The exercise begins on Monday, with Finnish soldiers joining in on Friday.

Exercise Cold Response, the largest of its kind in three decades, was announced eight months ago and is not linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Nato says.

According to the Finnish Defence Forces, the exercise is part of "deepening defence cooperation" between Finland, Sweden and Norway.

Almost 700 Finnish troops – including nearly 500 conscripts – will take part in the manoeuvres as part of a Swedish brigade from 18 March to 2 April.

The attack on Ukraine has spurred debate on and public support for joining Nato in traditionally non-aligned Finland and Sweden. However leaders of both countries have indicated that they have no plans for immediate decisions on applying.

Finland and Sweden have "enhanced membership" in Nato's Partnership for Peace programme. Ukraine and Russia have also been members of the programme (siirryt toiseen palveluun) since 1994.

Finland is the only non-Nato EU country bordering Russia.

On Saturday, a Russian foreign ministry official warned of unspecified "military and political consequences" if Finland and Sweden seek Nato membership.

Sergei Belyaev told Russian news agency Interfax that the non-participation of the two countries in Nato was "an important factor in ensuring security and stability in northern Europe."