The prospect of Russia using nuclear weapons in Ukraine is a key factor in Finland’s debate over whether to join NATO, the country’s foreign minister has said.
Pekka Haavisto has a busy few weeks. As Finland’s foreign minister, Haavisto, 64, could soon oversee the biggest political shift the country has seen since joining the EU nearly three decades ago. “Finland is currently making its choices. And of those choices, joining NATO is one,” Haavisto told the Guardian in an interview on Thursday.
Yesterday, the Finnish parliament began its long-awaited debate on the possibility of submitting a candidacy to NATO. Recent polls have shown a dramatic shift in public opinion in Finland, with the majority now in favor of NATO membership after the invasion of Ukraine.
“Our security environment changed dramatically after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24,” said the veteran Green Party politician.
Haavisto then listed the conclusions that Finland has drawn about its big neighbor and which have led to political debates in his country. Moscow has shown its willingness to take increasing risks in its military operations and has demonstrated its ability to quickly mobilize more than 100,000 troops against a neighboring country without carrying out a general mobilization.
“Russia’s behavior is more unpredictable and it is willing to take higher risks than before. If we look at Georgia in 2008 or Crimea in 2014, we could say that in these cases Russia took calculated risks,” the minister said, referring to the war in Georgia and the annexation of Crimea. .
“What is different now is that we see that Russia’s original objective when it attacked Ukraine was to change the regime in a country of 40 million people. This is a high risk operation for Russia, but Russia has shown that it is willing to take these risks.
Haavisto said he was also deeply troubled by reports that Russia may be using nuclear weapons in Ukraine as its military continues to struggle.
“For Russia’s neighbours, the country’s vague rhetoric about the use of unconventional weapons, including tactical nuclear weapons and chemicals, is very uncomfortable.
“This is a really worrying issue for us. It has triggered discussions in Finland about our own position on security in Europe.
Western intelligence officials have begun publicly warning that the Kremlin may turn to tactical nukes or other limited nuclear weapons in its arsenal if its invasion of Ukraine continues to flounder. On Wednesday, Bloomberg reported that those fears were also shared by some senior Russian officials and senior executives at state-owned companies.
Russia, which has previously denied planning a military operation against Ukraine, has declared its commitment to avoiding nuclear war. However, on Wednesday Moscow tested its Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, a new addition to its nuclear arsenal, which President Vladimir Putin said would give Moscow’s enemies “food for thought”.
Haavisto said that for the first time in his long political career, Finns “on the streets” are concerned about the “nuclear” issue.
“A typical question I get now from people on the streets or in shops, a question I haven’t had in my entire political life, is what Finland will do if threatened by nuclear or chemical weapons. . As a politician you have to have an answer to that,” he said.
That Finland, a country that has traditionally maintained a dialogue with the Kremlin, openly raises the possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons indicates how much the West perceives the country as a threat after its invasion of Ukraine.
The Nordic state’s popular president, Sauli Niinistö – often described as ‘Putin’s whisperer’ due to his direct line to the Kremlin – had been engaged in long conversations trying to persuade the Russian president not to invade Russia. ‘Ukraine.
Haavisto has now shrugged, saying it was “a big disappointment that Russia chose the military path in Ukraine” despite Finnish efforts.
The minister said Finland had kept diplomatic channels open with Russia during the war, and he pointed to Niinistö’s call with Putin on March 10 as one of the ways in which his country was trying to bring Putin to the negotiating table.
Finland is expected to make a decision on its application for NATO membership in the coming weeks, and it will take between four and 12 months for the 30-member alliance to formally accept the country.
“During this period, we are prepared for all kinds of [Russian] disruptions, cyber-attacks, hybrid attacks, etc. It’s just something you have to be prepared for,” Haavisto said.
Much discussion in parliament in Helsinki on Wednesday centered on the changes the country will see if it is part of the defensive bloc, given Finland’s 830-mile-long common border with Russia.
“I think the basic idea of NATO is this common, shared security that kicks in in times of crisis, in times of conflict you get help from other members,” Haavisto said, adding that the Finland intended to maintain conscription and its reserve of 280,000 soldiers.
“But in peacetime, I don’t see a major change in our defence… Russia is and always will be our neighbour. We have always appreciated a peaceful border, we would like it to remain so.