Russia is almost certain to be alarmed by the likely appointment of Alexander Stubb to become Finland’s next prime minister. The conservative politician, who currently serves as the Nordic country’s European affairs minister, favors breaking with Finland’s neutrality to join the NATO alliance.
“We have to aim at maximising Finland’s national security and being part of decisionmaking and that happens best as a NATO member,” Stubb told the Reuters news agency after Finland’s ruling National Coalition party elected him as its leader on Saturday.
Stubb is expected to take over as prime minister when Jyrki Katainen steps down, possibly as early as next Thursday, to seek a European Union job. Finland is due to hold a general election in April of next year.
While polls show no more than one in five Finns supports NATO membership, Stubb argues that the country needs a “comprehensive debate” about joining the military alliance.
However, the ruling coalition, which is composed of five right and left-wing parties, will not seek NATO membership at least during the remainder of its term in office.
Russia has warned Finland against entering the alliance which was originally founded to defend Europe against Soviet aggression. Sergei Lavrov, the country’s foreign minister, argued in a television interview on Saturday that Finland feels secure enough not to move closer to NATO.
Lavrov quoted Finland’s president, Sauli Niinistö, who earlier cautioned against joining NATO. “‘Does Northern Europe need this? How Russia will react?’ President Niinistö asked these questions with the subtext. He knows that the answer is negative: nobody needs this,” said Lavrov. He added, “President Niinistö realizes that what happened in Ukraine is impossible in Finland.”
Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March alarmed former Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe which asked for more concrete NATO security guarantees.
In Warsaw earlier this month, President Barack Obama tried to alleviate allies’ concerns by promising to spend up to $1 billion in support of the armed forces of NATO states on Russia’s borders. His administration also said it would review permanently deploying NATO troops in countries that entered the alliance after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, something it has shied away from for fearing of antagonizing Russia.
Finland declared independence from Russia after the 1917 communist revolution. The Soviet Union tried to reconquer the country during World War II but failed in a brutal “Winter War” that put Finland inadvertently on the side of Germany’s Axis alliance. It has since pursued a policy of neutrality that allowed it to host important Cold War summits, notably the 1975 Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe that normalized East-West relations.