Ambassador: Finland's purchase of F-35 jets also beneficial for Estonia

Sven Sakkov.
Sven Sakkov. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Non-NATO member Finland's decision to buy new fighter jets from the United States is a natural development and also benefits the wider region, Estonia's ambassador to Finland said on Friday.

On Friday, Finland announced it would buy 64 new F-35A Lightning II fighter jets from US manufacturer Lockheed Martin to replace its aging fleet of Hornet planes, public broadcaster YLE News wrote.  The first planes will be delivered in 2026.

Speaking about Finnish defense, ambassador and security policy expert Sven Sakkov said: "It should be noted that being a non-aligned country [non-NATO], Finland relies on a very strong defense capability. They have the largest and strongest artillery in Europe, they can raise a force of  280,000 men and women in mobilization. And now, on top of that, comes the decision to buy 64 units of the world's most modern stealth fighters."

Sakkov said this move is also beneficial for Estonia.

"In the case of Estonia, it is very useful when our friends have the best and most modern weaponry, even one that we can never afford," he said. Each jet costs €120 million and, overall, the procurement will cost some ten billion euros YLE News reported.

Commenting on Finland's decision to choose jets manufactured by the US company Lockheed Martin, Sakkov said the decision was known to be based on military-technical arguments.

US F-35As and F-15Es practiced tactical refueling at Ämari Air Base on Thursday. July 25, 2019. Source: Mattias Allik

"They have argued that they chose the best thing available and that this means nothing more than that this particular machine is the best. It is natural and inevitable that the Eurofighter, Gripen, Rafale and F-18 Super Hornet manufacturers are disappointed by today's decision by the Finnish government, there is nothing to be done about that," he said.

The ambassador also pointed out how Finland's President Sauli Niinisto responded to a recent demand by Russian President Vladimir Putin for an end to further enlargement of NATO.

"Niinisto said very clearly what can also be read in the Washington Treaty [NATO's founding document]. Namely that NATO enlargement concerns only the NATO enlargement candidate and its member states, and in no way Putin," he said.

"And it is namely in this geopolitical context that today's decision by Finland is very important and symbolic. Finland values very highly, in terms of international military cooperation, its trilateral defense cooperation with the U.S. and Sweden and has made great efforts to ensure that its defense forces are interoperable with the armed forces of NATO countries in military terms," Sakkov said.

The ambassador said Finland has been very successful in achieving a state of readiness in which it has no military-technical or practical obstacles in the event that at some point it would be necessary to act together with NATO or to seek membership of the alliance.

Italian Air Force F-35 Lightning II at Ämari. Source: Sigrid Paula Pukk

"But at the same time, I have to say that it [the desire to join the alliance] is not visible anywhere yet," Sakkov said.

Asked what this decision depends on, Sakkov said, "I think that any decisions Finland may take in the future will be determined by the international political environment -- our location, the European security environment. They have just been paying attention over the years to it that if that decision comes at some point, they would be ready militarily and technically."

Asked how Finnish society could view the latest decision, Sakkov said that the decision at the beginning of the 1990s to buy F/A-18 fighter jets from the United States was probably a bigger breakthrough for Finland.

"In fact, the bigger breakthrough happened then. And now, Finns are rather proud, and rightly proud, of their armed forces," the ambassador said.

"Finland has kept its armed forces very strong through decades, and I think that Finnish society knows indeed why Finland has armed forces. And this decision made today logically falls into the same line," he added.

Positive impact on the regional security

Estonian ministers, Riigikogu members and MEPs also agreed the move would bolster regional security.

MEP Riho Terras (Isamaa) said: "Even though the Finnish president's pendulum policy with Russia might rouse suspicion in us, this comes as a clear message that Finland is in sync with NATO. And it is a great assurance for our national security that our northern neighbor's airspace will be professionally and sturdily defended."

Riho Terras. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

"What this means for Russia is that putting pressure on Finland is harder today than it was yesterday, that Finland has clearly picked a side and that all manner of half-baked policy is unsustainable, which Finland has understood," Terras added.

Minister of Defense Kalle Laanet told ERR on Friday the decision could be significant from the point of view of strengthening transatlantic ties between Finland and USA.

Terras agreed purchasing planes from the US shows the bond between the two countries "remains strong".

Chairman of the Riigikogu's Foreign Affairs Committee Marko Mihkelson (Reform) also said the decision will have a "significant positive impact on the regional security".


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Editor: Helen Wright

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