Defense ministry chief: Risks arise while waiting on Finland NATO accession

Kusti Salm.
Kusti Salm. Source: ERR

Security risks for Estonia are likely to rise in the interim period between Finnish and Swedish decisions to join NATO, and their actual accession, Ministry of Defense Secretary-General Kusti Salm says.

Speaking to ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Friday night, Salm said: "As we have already seen today, Russia has announced that it intends to turn the issue of energy supply into a weapon, and perhaps other provocations are under consideration."

Finland's announcement Thursday that it would be joining NATO as soon as possible is expected to be followed by a similar declaration from Sweden. This will tip the security balance in the region, Salm said.

"The Baltic Sea will be encircled by a unified military alliance," Salm said – in fact Russia would be the only non-NATO member state with a Baltic Sea coast, were Finland and Sweden to join.

"Military and technical will certainly make the situation less favorable for Russia," Salm added, though said that the development would not be a magic bullet that will solve all the security problems in our region. 

In any case, cooperation between Finland and NATO and Sweden and NATO has been ongoing for a long time, Salm said.

"First, the Russian Federation has long considered Finland and Sweden to be NATO countries, and second, Finland and Sweden have long cooperated with NATO. So military integration is already at a pretty high level," Salm said.

The risks, including those in hybrid areas, make ratification of Finnish and Swedish membership of NATO paramount, he said.

Nonetheless, existing countries could spoil the party – unanimity is required from member states before new countries can be admitted – with Turkey's leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in particular saying that he could not support the development.

Erdogan claims that Scandinavian nations host large numbers of members of terrorist organizations.

Salm said that Erdogan's words were most likely an effort to make Turkey stand-out, a phenomenon which has been seen in the past.

He said: "They see an opportunity at some summit to find a solution which is important to them. The second argument is also for Finland and Sweden. This is their first lesson that NATO is a collective defensive organization, that decisions are made by consensus and that the security interests of all allies must be taken into account."

On the domestic side, the ratification process for NATO membership in the two countries may also be turbulent, Salm said.

Estonia's main role is to get the Finnish ratification process in particular concluded as soon as possible – this will send a message that joining NATO can be pushed through quickly when needed, Salm said.

Estonia can offer help here and also militarily, he went on.

Meanwhile, a current security agreement between Finland and Sweden and the U.K. may also be mirrored by the U.S., who will principally play a deterrence role in the region and towards Russia, Salm went on.

That both the U.S. and the U.K. are nuclear powers is most significant, he said.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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