WASHINGTON (AFP) – Finland signed a deal to increase military cooperation with the United States on Monday, saying it recognized the long-term threat from Russia, a day after its giant neighbor sounded the alarm about Helsinki’s recent NATO membership.
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The defense cooperation agreement coincides with Finland’s accession to the Atlantic Alliance in April and formalizes a strengthened relationship with the United States, including joint military training and military interoperability.
Defense Minister Antti Hakkanen, who signed the deal with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington, hailed it as “a strong sign of the United States’ commitment to the defense of Finland and the whole of Northern Europe.”
“We do not expect the United States to work on Finland’s defense. We will continue to invest in defense and share the burden within our region and beyond,” he said.
“However, this agreement significantly strengthens our ability to act together in all situations.”
Finland, which fended off a Soviet invasion in the Winter War of 1939-1940, avoided formal membership in NATO for decades due to fears of animosity with its larger neighbor, although it has attempted to join the alliance. It changed its policy after Russia’s failed attack on Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in an interview with state television published on Sunday, accused the West of “dragging” Finland into NATO, saying Russia had long since resolved its 20th century conflict with Helsinki. He said that
President Putin announced the creation of a new district within the Russian military near Finland, which shares a 1,340-kilometre (830-mile) border with Russia.
Finnish Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen, speaking in Washington after the deal was signed, once again accused Russia of trying to “weaponize migration” by sending people from developing countries across borders into EU countries.
“Over the past two years, we have seen very little restraint on Russia’s aggressive behavior,” he told the Hudson Institute.
“Russia will continue to be a threat to global security for the foreseeable future,” he said.
Russia is “trying to distract us from its illegal war of aggression and sow discord,” she said.
Finland knows it’s “better than anyone”
Blinken said at the signing ceremony that Finland “knows better than almost anyone what’s at stake for Ukraine.”
“In 1939, the Finns also faced Russian aggression and proved that free nations can mount an incredibly strong and tenacious resistance,” Blinken said.
“Your history reminds us why it is so important that we all continue to support Ukraine,” he added.
“A dictator who attempts to forcefully redraw a country’s borders will almost certainly not stop there.”
Mr. Blinken and Mr. Valtonen reiterated their support for Sweden to join NATO, which it applied for alongside Finland in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
Sweden’s bid is being held up by Turkey, which has been trying to extract concessions and pressure Stockholm to crack down on Kurdish militants.
“I just hope it happens before the end of the year,” Valtonen said, pointing to this week’s meeting in Turkey’s parliament regarding Sweden’s bid.
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