Finland, neutral but nervous, discusses defense with Biden

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Finland, neutral but nervous, discusses defense with Biden

WASHINGTON – When President Biden met with the neutral but increasingly nervous Finnish President Souli Niinisto in the Oval Office on Friday afternoon, Mr. Biden greeted his guest with a short joke recalling a thing Barack Obama said. Tried to keep it comfortable.

“President Obama used to say, ‘If we left everything to the Nordic countries, we would be fine,'” Mr. Biden recalled. “Everything will be alright.”

Mr. Ninisto nodded, and replied, “Well, we don’t usually start wars.”

It was an exchange that captured how diplomacy has changed over the past nine days, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine shook the way Europeans talked about Russia. Prior to this, President Vladimir V. Putin had an unexpected power to manage Russia, especially for a nation like Finland, which was ruled by Russia for most of the 19th century, until the Russian Revolution in 1917. Hui.

Now, the country responsible for the term Finlandization, a Cold War expression not remembered by the Finns, is reconsidering its relations with Washington, NATO and the West. Its streets are a mix of Nordic and European cultures, its politics increasingly westward. The invasion of Ukraine has prompted serious consideration for the first time whether it should be a member of NATO.

But in their brief public appearance together – during which the two leaders expressed their desire to strengthen the “long-term partnership” between their countries – none mentioned the possibility of Finland joining the Western Alliance. It appeared intentional. Even if the Finns decide to try to make the leap to full NATO membership – which still seems like a reach – figuring out how they will move from their current neutrality to formal membership is beyond difficult.

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The problem, as one European diplomat put it, is the period of vulnerability between the time when Finland would declare its interest in becoming a full NATO member and the time it came under coalition protection, and its Article V assures That an attack on one is an attack on all. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity to relay private discussions.

As the invasion of Ukraine began, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned that any such move would have “serious military-political repercussions”. No one was sure what that meant, but after the brutal scenes of the invasion of Ukraine, they clearly don’t want to find out.

At the White House, the press secretary, Jen Psaki, was studiously vague.

Asked whether Biden wants Finland to join NATO, Ms Psaki said: “It will be up to the leaders of Finland and the NATO coalition to determine.”

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