On eve of NATO membership, defense ministers from Finland, Sweden discuss Nordic cooperation on border to Russia
Few days ahead of decisions that could change the European security landscape, the Finnish and Swedish defense ministers meet with Nordic NATO colleagues at Svanvik, the Norwegian village located only few hundred meters from Russia.
By Atle Staalesen May 12, 2022
[Defence Ministers of Finland and Sweden Antti Kaikkonen (right) and Peter Hultquist. Photo: Atle Staalesen]
The defense ministers from five Nordic countries went on a helicopter tour along Norway’s Arctic border to Russia before they landed at the Svanvik border station, a base for the military units that guard the area.
The meeting is held under the auspices of Nordefco, the Nordic defence cooperation, and comes at a time of a historic watershed. Both Finland and Sweden are expected to announce decisions to joint the alliance in the course of the next few days.
Nordic defence ministers in Svanvik, northern Norway. Photo: Atle Staalesen
In their meeting in the border area, the Finnish and Swedish ministers meet with colleagues from Norway, Denmark and Iceland, all of them NATO members.
“We are standing at a milestone in European history now when the Nordic defence ministers meet here in Sør-Varanger,” Norwegian minister Bjørn Arild Gram said as the ministers arrived to site on Wednesday.
“We have a lot to talk about,” he underlined.
Nordefco has for more than a decade been a platform for enhanced Nordic defense cooperation. That cooperation could now face change as Finland and Sweden join NATO.
However, the ministers are convinced that a joint Nordic region in the alliance will only strengthen cooperation between the countries.
“If both Finland and Sweden join NATO it will probably open more possibilities for our Nordic defense cooperation,” Finnish minister Antti Kaikkonen told the Barents Observer.
“In these times, the Nordic cooperation is more important than ever,” he underlined, and added that Finland will “very soon” announce its conclusion on NATO membership.
Antti Kaikkonen is Defence Minister of Finland. Photo: Atle Staalesen
Nordefco could positively compliment NATO action, the Nordic ministers argue.
“Nordefco has an important role and will continue to have an important role in the future,” said Sweden’s Peter Hultqvist.
The Swedish minister explains that Sweden has experienced serious attempts to influence its choice of security adherence. More could follow a decision to join the alliance.
“We have had violations of our air space, cyber attacks, disinformation campaigns,” Hultquist said and added that his country could face more attacks. “They can also engage in undermining, sabotage and take other kinds of actions that are negative for our society,” he explained.
Russia’s war against Ukraine is quickly leading to the extension of NATO. The Kremlin now poses a serious threat to the whole European security architecture.
“We are now living in a kind of time that we thought was part of the past, but European history is repeating itself though the evil Russian attack on Ukraine,” Peter Hultqvist said.
According to Finland’s Kaikkonen, “the Russian attack on Ukraine has been a huge disappointment for us all, and it changes security situation in Europe.”
President Niinistö speaks with Biden plans to call Putin
The Finnish and US presidents held a joint phone call with the Swedish PM as the two Nordic nations move toward joining Nato. YLE NEWS``13.5. 2022
Finland's President Sauli Niinistö spoke with his US counterpart Joe Biden on Friday. Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson also took part in the joint conversation, Niinistö said in a tweet on Friday evening.
"We shared our deep concern about the Russian invasion in Ukraine. I went through Finland's next steps towards Nato membership. Finland deeply appreciates all the necessary support from the United States," he tweeted.
Earlier on Friday Niinistö said he would call Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the changed situation following Thursday's announcement that Finnish political leaders support an application to join the Nato alliance.
Niinistö revealed his plans during an interview with the Swedish news agency TT published on Friday afternoon, saying he wanted to deal with the matter directly by speaking to his Russian counterpart.
"I'm not the kind of person who just slips away around the corner. I intend to call him and state that the situation has changed, as we both know," Niinistö said.
However, he did not say specify when he intended to make the call.
Close contacts for a decade
The two heads of state last spoke by telephone in March, when Finland's president noted the effect Russia's war in Ukraine was having on public opinion in western countries.
The two leaders have maintained regular contacts over the past decade, usually meeting twice a year before the pandemic. They last met face-to-face in Moscow in October after a two-year hiatus.
Both of their presidential terms began in the spring of 2012, though Putin had held the post earlier before a stint as prime minister.
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