President Joe Biden met with Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto Friday with the Finns at a crossroads: Whether to move closer to the rest of Europe and the West by trying to join NATO as neighboring Russia pummels Ukraine.
The White House said in a statement the leaders discussed NATO’s “open door” policy, which allows any Euro-Atlantic nation willing to commit to the alliance’s values and obligations to seek membership. Biden and Niinisto also “committed to start a process that would strengthen U.S.-Finnish security cooperation,” to be conducted in consultation with other Nordic countries.
Biden said at the start of their meeting, “We agree it’s not only an attack on Ukraine, it’s an attack on the security of Europe.”
The Finnish leader thanked the U.S. for “leading in very difficult times.” And he added in brief public remarks before the leaders began their private White House meeting, “We will do our best” to help Ukraine.
Finland, as well as neighbor Sweden, for years has resisted joining NATO, with Nordic European Union members seeking to remain neutral between Russia and the West. But the Russian invasion of Ukraine is changing the dynamic.
A poll commissioned by Finnish broadcaster YLE this week showed that, for the first time, more than 50% of Finns support joining the Western military alliance. In Sweden, a similar poll showed those in favor of NATO membership outnumber those against.
The attack on Ukraine also has prompted Finland and Sweden to break with their policy of not providing arms to countries at war. They have sent assault rifles and anti-tank weapons to Kyiv.
Biden thanked the Finnish president for the country’s help for Ukraine. He said, “Finland is a critical partner to the United States, a strong defense partner, a partner to NATO.” The leaders also discussed climate change and energy security.
Biden joked that when his old boss, President Barack Obama, was in office, Obama would sometimes say “leave everything” to the Nordic countries to sort out.
Niinisto dryly responded, “Well, we usually don’t start wars.”
Finland has a conflict-ridden history with Russia, with which it shares a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border. Finns have taken part in dozens of wars against their eastern neighbor — for centuries as part of the Swedish Kingdom, and as an independent nation, including two fought with the Soviet Union from 1939-40 and 1941-44.