The Russian president has warned his Finnish counterpart that relations between the two neighbours could be “negatively affected” if Finland follows through with plans to apply for Nato membership.
The Kremlin’s press service said in a statement that Vladimir Putin told Sauli Niinistö that Finland’s abandonment “of its traditional policy of military neutrality would be an error since there are no threats to Finland’s security”.
The statement added: “Such a change in the country’s foreign policy could negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations, which had been built in the spirit of good neighbourliness and partnership for many years, and were mutually beneficial.”
The response came after Niinistö told Putin in a phone conversation that the militarily non-aligned Nordic country, which has a complex history with its eastern neighbour, “will decide to apply for Nato membership in the coming days”.
Niinistö’s office said the Finnish head of state told Putin how starkly Finland’s security environment had changed after Moscow’s invasion on Ukraine, and pointed to Russia’s demands on Finland refraining from seeking membership of the 30-member western military alliance.
“The discussion [with Putin] was straightforward and unambiguous and was held without exaggeration. Avoiding tensions was considered important,” said Niinistö, Finland’s president since 2012 and one of a handful of western leaders who has been in regular dialogue with Putin over the past decade.
Niinistö said he had already told Putin at their first meeting in 2012 that “each independent nation would maximise its own security”.
“That is still the case. By joining Nato, Finland will strengthen its own security and assume its responsibilities. It is not something away from anybody,” Niinistö said.
He stressed that Finland, despite its probable future Nato membership, wanted to continue dealing with Russia bilaterally in “practical issues generated by the border neighborhood” and hoped to engage with Moscow “in a professional manner”.
According to the Kremlin statement, the two leaders also discussed Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, and the possibility of achieving a political solution. Putin said negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv had been suspended due to Ukraine’s “lack of interest in a serious and constructive dialogue.”
The phone call was conducted on Finland’s initiative, Niinistö’s office said.
Finland shares a 830-mile (1,340km) border with Russia, the longest of any EU member.
Niinistö and the Finnish prime minister, Sanna Marin, on Thursday jointly endorsed Finland’s Nato bid and recommended the country must apply for it “without delay” to guarantee security amid Russia’s military manoeuvres in Ukraine and Europe’s changed geopolitical and security landscape.
A formal announcement from Niinistö and Marin of Finland’s intention to apply for membership is expected on Sunday. Marin’s governing Social Democratic party approved the application on Saturday, paving the way for a parliamentary vote next week to endorse the move. It is expected to pass with overwhelming support.
A formal membership application would then be submitted to Nato headquarters in Brussels.
Neighbouring Sweden is expected to decide on its stance on Sunday in a meeting of the governing Social Democratic party led by the prime minister, Magdalena Andersson.
The US president, Joe Biden, held a joint call on Friday with Niinistö and Andersson where, according to a White House statement, he “underscored his support for Nato’s open door policy and for the right of Finland and Sweden to decide their own future, foreign policy and security arrangements”.