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NATO's Vershbow: Alliance would help Finland in Baltic crisis situation

In an interview with Lännen Media, NATO's deputy secretary-general said the military alliance would assist Finland in the case of a hypothetical crisis in the Baltic Sea region.

Naton apulaispääshteeri seisoo kameran edessä. Kuvassa näkyy myös Ylen ulkomaantoimittaja Sari Taussi.
NATO's Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow interviewed by Yle in September 2016. Image: Jaani Lampinen / Yle

According to an interview published by Lännen Media over the weekend, NATO's Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow said that both Finland and Sweden would be able to participate in a NATO-led military response to a crisis - and also receive help from the military alliance.

"A crisis in the Baltic region could very well affect both NATO member countries and Finland," Vershbow said. "NATO could decide to respond to the crisis by protecting allies and by helping a close partner."

However, the decision to assist Finland militarily would depend on specific circumstances and also require consensus of NATO member states, he said. But he added that NATO and Finland have developed such a close relationship that NATO countries would want to help Finland in a crisis situation in some way.

Finland's joined NATO's Partnership for Peace in 1994, which enables Finland to ask NATO for consultation assistance in the event of a crisis. Vershbow says that NATO would quickly convene for a crisis meeting if such a case arose, the paper wrote.

Both Finland and Sweden would also have the right - but not the obligation - to participate in a NATO response to a hypothetical crisis in the Baltic Sea region, he said.

According to Vershbow, consultation between Finland and NATO frequently occurs already. Finland and NATO conduct joint crisis exercises and together regularly make threat level assessments of the Baltic Sea region.

Nuclear weapons as a message

In the Lännen Media interview, Vershbow also commented on the nuclear weapons strategies of Finland's large eastern neighbour.

"Since the invasion of the Crimean Peninsula it seems as though Russia is placing increasing trust into nuclear weapons," Vershbow said. "Russia has taken demonstrative steps by taking part in exercises that simulate situations in which they would use nuclear weapons. They do this to send a political message - and to openly scare their neighbours."

Vershbow says that the worst scenario would be that Russia uses nuclear weapons as tactical bargaining chips in the Baltic region, but says he doesn't think it would happen.

Defence Minister: NATO partnership has no larger significance

Finland's Minister of Defence Jussi Niinistö reacted to Vershbow's comments in the Kaleva newspaper, saying that Finland can in no way base the country's defence on NATO.

"One must make a clear distinction between NATO membership and the consultation that Vershbow mentioned. Finland is a militarily alliance-free country with a national, independent defence," Niinistö said.

Niinistö added that a NATO partnership has no larger significance in a crisis situation.

"[Take] for example the Ukraine, which also has a partnership agreement with NATO," Niinistö said.

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