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Four Nato warships dock in Helsinki

The naval visits, which were agreed on a few weeks ago, send a message of support during Finland's Nato transition period, say the defence minister and the defence committee chair.

The USS Gunston Hall, a 190m US Navy landing ship, will be docked in Helsinki until Monday. Image: Juha Kivioja / Yle

Four warships from the United States, Germany and France were docked at Helsinki's Hernesaari pier on Saturday evening. The US and German ships have been taking part in exercises in the Baltic Sea.

According to the Finnish Navy, interest in Finland has increased. The visits are a sign of support for Finland since it applied for Nato membership on 18 May, said the Squadron Commander Jussi Jämsén.

"That's how we see it. The interest in Finland has been absolutely huge. We really appreciate the fact that these ships are visiting Helsinki," he told Yle.

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"Several countries have taken part in exercises in the Baltic Sea. Due to the international situation, interest in Finland has increased, so the ships wanted to come here for maintenance and to give the crew a chance to rest," said Commander Jussi Jämsén from the Finnish Navy. Image: Juha Kivioja / Yle

Number of military exercises on the rise

On Friday, the Ministry of Defence said that Finland is boosting its participation in international military exercises. Twenty training and exercise events are planned for the rest of the year, eight of which have been newly added to the schedule.

The new exercises are part of preparations for possible disruption from Russia in the transition period between the submission of the Nato application and membership approval, said Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen (Cen).

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"Only a few of the USS Gunston Hall's crew members have visited Finland before, so we came here to enjoy the culture, food and museums," said the ship's captain, Commander Elizabeth Nelson. Image: Juha Kivioja / Yle

"We're strengthening our partnerships during the application period. This is reflected, among other things, in the way we're training a little more with our close partners, and we'll certainly see other types of visits in the coming months," Kaikkonen told Yle.

Kaikkonen: "It's good that we have friends"

However, increasing the number of exercises does not represent a major change, said Kaikkonen.

"But it is a clear sign of support for Finland, and contributes to strengthening Finland's defence capabilities," he said.

According to Kaikkonen, the naval visits had already been agreed before Finland submitted its Nato application, but the presence of warships in Finnish territorial waters sends a strong message.

"It shows that we have good partnerships in the world, and that we're actively cooperating on defence matters. Of course, we have done so in the past, and in this kind of a slightly turbulent situation, their value will, of course, increase further. It's good that we have friends," he said.

Orpo: Strong message toward Russia

Petteri Orpo (NCP), chair of the Parliamentary Defence Committee, sees raising the number of military exercises as a positive, expected decision.

"This is part of a plan to ensure Finland's security during the Nato process. The exercises will increase the presence of our partner countries in Finland and the surrounding areas. That is absolutely a good thing for Finland," the opposition leader said.

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The USS Gunston Hall took part in a Finnish Navy exercise on the Gulf of Finland last week. It will depart Helsinki on Monday. Image: Juha Kivioja / Yle

"We've received very strong signals of strong support from the US, Britain and many other Nato countries. They show that they are committed to Finland's security and to Finland's Nato membership. It's a strong political message to the outside world, including Russia, that they're serious about us," Orpo added.