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Niinistö to Putin: Finland will seek Nato membership soon

The Finnish president said the phone call was "conducted without aggravations". He also predicted that Turkey will eventually back Finland's Nato bid.

Niinistö and Putin have met frequently over the past decade, including talks in Moscow last October. Image: Petteri Sopanen / Yle, Mikhail Metzel / AFP

President Sauli Niinistö called Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, informing him that Finland will apply for Nato membership within the next few days.

According to the president's office, Niinistö told his Russian counterpart "how fundamentally the Russian demands in late 2021 aiming at preventing countries from joining Nato and Russia’s massive invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 have altered the security environment of Finland".

In a tweet on Saturday afternoon, Niinistö said the conversation was "direct and straightforward" and "conducted without aggravations".

In a statement, he added that "avoiding tensions was considered important” and that " Finland wants to take care of the practical questions arising from being a neighbour of Russia in a correct and professional manner".

Niinistö repeated "his deep concern over the human suffering" caused by Russia's attack and the need to secure the evacuation of civilians.

According to the Russian news agency Ria, Putin warned Niinistö in the conversation that changing Finland's foreign policy could undermine relations between Finland and Russia.

Putin was quoted as saying that Finland is not under any security threat and that giving up non-alignment could be a mistake.

The day before, Niinistö spoke with his US counterpart Joe Biden in a joint conversation with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.

Niinistö: Turkey unlikely to block membership

Interviewed by Yle on Saturday morning, Niinistö said he does not believe that Turkey will ultimately try to block Finland's Nato membership.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that it was "impossible" for Turkey to take a positive view of Finland's and Sweden's applications for membership. He said that allowing the Nordic countries to join would be "a mistake", suggesting that they support Kurdish separatists.

Speaking on the Yle current affairs programme Ykkösaamu, Niinistö said that Turkey's message to Finland has been quite different in the past.

"We should take this calmly. So far, Turkey's message to us has been quite the opposite," he said. "I wouldn't go so far as to speculate that they will ultimately try to throw a spanner in the works."

The issue may be discussed when Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (Green) meets with Nato foreign ministers in Berlin on Saturday. Finland and Sweden were invited to join the informal meeting of ministers, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

On Friday Haavisto also called for patience and calm in response to Erdogan's comments, saying that he has received supportive messages from Turkish officials this spring.

Turkey seeks talks with Nordic countries on PKK

On Saturday, Erdogan's top foreign policy advisor said that Turkey has not shut the door to Sweden and Finland joining Nato but wants negotiations with the Nordic countries and a clampdown on what it sees as terrorist activities especially in Stockholm.

"We are not closing the door. But we are basically raising this issue as a matter of national security for Turkey," Ibrahim Kalin told Reuters.

Any country seeking to join Nato needs the unanimous support of all 30 members of the alliance. The US and other member states have been trying to clarify Ankara's position, Reuters reports.

Kalin said the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union – was fund-raising and recruiting in Europe and Sweden in particular.

"They have to stop allowing PKK outlets, activities, organisations, individuals and other types of presence to...exist in those countries," Kalin said.

Kalin denied that Russia's sharp criticism of Finland and Sweden over their plans was a factor in Turkey's position.

Grushko: "No hostile intentions"

Commenting on the two countries' likely Nato applications, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said on Saturday that Moscow has no hostile intentions towards Finland and Sweden.

However in an interview with Russian news agency Interfax quoted by Reuters, he warned that Russia will take precautionary measures if Nato deploys nuclear forces and infrastructure closer to its border.

17.28: Added Putin quotes from Ria.

18.04: Added Kalin quotes from Reuters.