Foreign ministers Timo Soini and Margot Wallström of non-NATO members Finland and Sweden joined member states of the 28-nation military alliance for a pow-wow in Brussels on Friday – the first time the Nordic neighbours had been invited to sit in on the inner circle meeting of foreign ministers.
NATO has expressed interest in working more closely with the EU and has made strong overtures to traditionally neutral Nordic states Sweden and Finland. As a result the alliance has stepped up military cooperation and joint exercises with both countries.
Finland and Sweden also appeared to edge closer to the NATO fold when they signed a host nation support agreement last autumn, which essentially opens the door for NATO-led forces to be stationed in so-called host nations during operations.
These developments have now culminated in foreign ministers from Finland and Sweden being invited to sit with their NATO colleagues ahead of a major NATO summit scheduled for Poland in July.
"This is of course a kind of historic meeting in the sense that this kind of meeting hasn’t happened before," Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini said in Brussels.
Soini: Finland will do everything to strengthen own defence
Soini declined commenting on the details of the three-hour deliberations, but pointed to what he said was the deteriorating securing situation in the Baltic area, a subject he said had been thoroughly discussed.
"Of course everyone can see that there has been a change for the worse and this has a ripple effect. Whatever Finland does, it will do everything to strengthen its own position and defence, in its own interests," Soini said, referring to Finland’s goal in attending the NATO meeting.
NATO has said that Russia’s annexation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine has prompted member countries to reinforce their presence in Eastern Europe and the Baltic region.
"It is evident that our actions are a response to Russia’s conduct in Ukraine. Before that happened, we didn't have the kind of strong presence in the eastern part of the alliance that we are now planning," said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Stoltenberg said that although tensions had grown, NATO still wants to continue dialogue with Russia.
"I believe that Moscow understands that in the long term they will benefit more from cooperation with Europe and NATO than from confrontation," Stoltenberg observed.