Finland’s president has said that a NATO warning made by Russian President Vladimir Putin was a “game changer” that led the country to pursue membership of the alliance.
In a Fox News interview aired on Sunday, President Sauli Niinistö told anchor Shannon Bream that Putin’s warning against other nations joining NATO had the opposite effect.
While both Finland and Sweden have applied for NATO membership following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, their ascension to the alliance has stalled in Hungary and Turkey.
Under rules set out by the military alliance, all 30 member nations must approve the application before countries are granted the right to join.
Finland President Sauli Niinistö and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Finnish president said he was confident the country would be admitted to join NATO. Getty
Niinistö’s powers are limited under Finland’s system. However, he still has large influence over the country’s foreign politics and is the leader of the nation’s defense forces.
Finland has had a tense history with Russia and was under its control for more than a century until its independence in 1917. The country also fought against the Soviet Union during the Winter War, where it ceded territory that is now part of Russia.
Niinistö was asked by Bream where he thought it was “ironic” that Putin partly justified the invasion as he did not want NATO expansion. Now, two nations might soon be its newest members.
Niinistö replied: “Yes. I think that President Putin has had, still has some kind of obsession dealing with Ukraine.
“We have heard it during the years in his speeches and, well, that is what he can’t get rid of, and I think that’s a big mistake,” Niinistö added.
“When it comes to Finland and Sweden, yes, when Putin said he would demand NATO not to enlarge anymore. Actually, that was kind of a game-changer in our minds because so far we had always considered, and others too, that from our own will, we are militarily unaligned. But, after Putin’s speech, I’m afraid quite many of us would have said that yes, they forbid you to join. So it was a game-changer if you want.”
Finland and Sweden’s membership process has stalled in Hungary and Turkey, although it is expected that the Hungarian prime minister will ultimately ratify the decision.
But Turkey could delay efforts further as its President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has taken issue with Kurdish paramilitary supporters being in the country, a group it has made efforts to suppress.
Should Finland join NATO, it would add 832 miles of border between the group and Russia. This would prove to be a major blow to Putin.
Five NATO members (Norway, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland) already border Russia.
Newsweek has contacted the Kremlin for comment via email.