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Niinistö suggests closer defence ties with US and Sweden as alternative to Nato

According to Niinistö, Finland has two security options: Nato membership or closer partnership with the US and Sweden.

Under the Finnish constitution, foreign policy is directed by the president in co-operation with the government. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

Deeper defence co-operation with the United States and Sweden might be an alternative to joining Nato, President Sauli Niinistö suggested in an interview with the Financial Times, published on Sunday. Niinistö discussed security policy and the possible advantages and disadvantages of joining the military alliance.

According to Niinistö, Finland has two options to secure its position: Nato membership or closer partnership with the US and Sweden. In any case, said Niinistö, Finland is now seeking a change in its current situation.

“The starting point is that we are looking at something else than continuing just like this. All these alternatives have an advantage that our security will improve. Or we make sure that our stability remains and that we can make sure we live in [a] secure environment,” Niinistö told the paper.

Flurry of meetings with Swedish, US leaders

Closer ties with the US and Sweden have been discussed in recent talks with leaders of those countries, including Niinistö's snap meeting with US President Joe Biden at the White House in early March.

At that meeting, “Swedish-Finnish-American co-operation was discussed, and we got a lot of understanding from Washington,” Niinistö told the FT.

Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen (Centre) also recently visited the US to meet with his American opposite number. He, Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) and Interior Minister Krista Mikkonen (Green) have all also held talks with their Swedish counterparts in the past couple of weeks.

Historically non-aligned Sweden and Finland are "enhanced members" of Nato's Partnership for Peace programme. They regularly take part in Nato-led operations and exercises, including the ongoing Cold Response 2022 in neighbouring Norway.

Opinion polls since the Russian invasion of Ukraine show that for the first time, a majority of Finns now support Nato membership, even including a plurality of supporters of the traditionally anti-Nato Left Alliance. The FT cited a recent Yle poll that showed a record-high 62 percent support for joining the alliance.

Headline re-worded

“I understand very well that, for example, [joining] Nato might seem like our worries are over. But all the different alternatives include risks we have to recognise . . . At the moment the major risk is escalation of the situation in Europe,” Niinistö is quoted as saying in the interview.

In separate tweets on Sunday morning, Niinistö and his office asked the British newspaper to change the headline of the story, suggesting that it was misleading.

The headline was soon changed from "Finland joining Nato would entail ‘major escalation risk’, president says" to "Finland warns of ‘major escalation risk’ in Europe amid Nato membership debate".

The FT also removed a photo of former defence minister Jussi Niinistö (Finns/Blue Reform), who is not related to the president and left office nearly three years ago.