Finland Upgrades NATO Ties After Condemning Russian Tactics

Finland will sign an agreement with NATO making it easier for the organization to put its troops on the Nordic country’s soil as the government in Helsinki condemns Russia’s treatment of Ukraine.

President Sauli Niinistoe and Prime Minister Alexander Stubb decided to sign the pact on Aug. 22, according to a statement today. Closer ties with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have been under way since last year as part of a collaboration first envisioned in 2002. Finland will be free to decide the extent of its NATO cooperation on a case-by-case basis. Sweden is close to striking a similar accord, Defense Ministry spokesman Henrik Hedberg said today by text message.

Stubb criticized Russia yesterday for actions he said constituted a violation of international justice. “Russia did wrong,” he said in a speech in Helsinki. “We have seen enough of the justice of the strong on this continent.” Niinistoe, speaking at the same event, urged Europe to step up its focus on defense spending as relations with Russia deteriorate.

The northernmost euro member, which has the European Union’s longest border with Russia, fought two wars against the Soviet Union during World War II, ceding about 10 percent of its land mass in the process. Now, its economy is more exposed to Russian demand than any other euro nation, trade figures show.

GDP Fallout

Russia’s slowing growth will reduce Finland’s gross domestic product by 0.5 percent over this year and next, the government said today. Unemployment will reach 8.4 percent by the end of 2015, 0.2 percentage point more than Finland estimated in December.

Niinistoe said yesterday full NATO membership remains an option. Calls to consolidate Finnish defenses have grown as tensions between Russia and Ukraine escalate. General Jarmo Lindberg, commander of the Finnish Defense Forces, said this month Europe needs to be prepared for a sudden deterioration at its eastern frontier.

Russian state aircraft have violated Finnish airspace at least four times this year. Though Stubb characterized the latest incident as “nothing dramatic,” he said the crisis in Ukraine has unified EU nations, in an Aug. 24 interview with broadcaster YLE.

Baltic Ties

Finland has worked with NATO since 1994 as a member of the Partnership for Peace program and its military equipment is NATO-compliant. It shied away from the full membership its Baltic neighbors sought amid voter reluctance to join.

A poll this month by YLE found about 58 percent of Finns don’t want to join NATO, while support for entry rose 2 percentage points to 26 percent. Stubb and Niinistoe’s National Coalition is the only party in the Finnish parliament that backs membership.

“Any agreement on cooperation between a NATO and non-NATO country is good for regional security,” Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said in an interview today.

Host-nation support includes instances where a country accepts external help or resources on its soil, including during disasters or to deal with security threats, as well as military training and cooperation, Finland said.

The agreement doesn’t obligate either party to give or receive aid or troops, nor is it a commitment on Finland’s part to allow external troops access or a right to pass through, the government said. Finland retains the right to decide whether it will undertake actions that would entail host-nation support measures, the government said.

Finland targets implementing the measures in 2016 and has prepared the deal in coordination with Sweden, which has a similar timetable and goals, according to the government. The two countries agreed in May to study ways to pool defense resources. Their findings are due in October.