Putin tells Finland trading neutrality for NATO is a mistake

May 14 (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto on Saturday that giving up neutrality and joining NATO would be a mistake that could damage relations between their two countries, the Kremlin said.

The two countries said their presidents spoke by phone two days after Finland declared its intention to join the Western alliance. Moscow described this as a security threat that will force it to respond, but did not specify how.

Niinisto’s office said he told Putin “how Russian demands in late 2021 to prevent countries from joining NATO and Russia’s massive invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 fundamentally changed the environment Finnish Security”.

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He said Finland wanted to handle relations with its Russian neighbor “properly and professionally”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Artyom Zhoga, father of pro-Russian military unit commander of Sparta Battalion Vladimir Zhoga who was killed in conflict in Ukraine, following the Victory Day parade, which marks the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, in Moscow, Russia May 9, 2022. Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Pool via REUTERS

The Kremlin said: “Vladimir Putin stressed that abandoning the traditional policy of military neutrality would be a mistake, because there is no threat to Finland’s security. Such a change in the country’s foreign policy could have a negative impact on Russian-Finnish relations.”

Moscow described the call as a “frank exchange of views”, normally a diplomatic euphemism for a difficult conversation.

Niinisto said: “The conversation was direct and direct and it passed without escalation. Avoiding tension was considered important.”

Finland’s application for membership is expected to be followed by a similar move from Sweden, confronting Putin with exactly what he said he wanted to avoid when he launched his invasion of Ukraine on February 24: further NATO expansion to Russia’s borders.

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Additional reporting by Essi Lehto; Written by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by David Clarke

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