NAANTALI /Finland/, July 1. /TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Moscow will respect Finland’s choice but will have to respond if this country joins NATO.
"Do you think we will continue to act in the same manner (if Finland joins NATO)? "We have withdrawn our troops to a distance of 1,500 kilometers (from the border). Do you think they will stay there?" he said at a news conference following Russian-Finnish talks.
The Russian president recalled that the decision to withdraw troops from the border with Finland to a distance of 1,500 kilometers was taken with due account for Finland’s neutral status, which will change, if this country joins NATO.
"Anyway, we will respect any choice of the Finnish people," he said. "It’s up to the Finnish people to decide how to defend their independence and ensure their safety. Of course, we value Finland’s neutral status and respect it, but it is not up to us to address this issue."
"Paraphrasing a remark of one of my Finnish friends, I could say that NATO would probably be pleased to wage war on Russia until the last Finnish soldier," Putin said. "Do you want this? We don’t. As for you, you should decide for yourselves.".
According to Putin, Moscow will try to start dialogue with NATO in spite of the alliance’s expansion towards Russia’s borders.
"The Finnish president came up with proposals today at least on the first steps aimed at enhancing confidence and preventing conflicts. I have already said that I agree with this. We will try to begin the dialogue with NATO at the summit in Brussels," Putin said.
The Russian president noted that "those who made a provocative step" by supporting a coup in Ukraine that eventually led to Crimea’s incorporation into Russia later began "to take other steps, including those aimed at whipping up tensions in other parts of the world, Europe, including in the Baltic Sea region."
According to Putin, NATO’s military infrastructure is moving towards Russia’s borders, missile defense systems are deployed "under the far-fetched pretext of countering Iran’s nuclear threat" despite the fact that the threat is no longer there. In particular, after an agreement with Iran was signed, NATO deployed its radar and interceptor missiles to Romania aimed at neutralizing Russia’s nuclear potential. The possibility of deploying similar systems to Poland is discussed as well, "and this is the Baltic Sea region."
"All this creates an obvious threat to us that no one wants to notice, no one wants to maintain dialogue with us on this issue," the Russian leader said. "We will have to respond accordingly," he added.
Putin also expressed dissatisfaction with NATO’s intention to increase its contingent in the Baltic countries. "The movement of our troops on our own territory is declared an element of aggressive behavior, and NATO military exercises close to our borders are for some reason not considered to be such. We believe this is absolutely unfair and does not correspond to reality," he said.
He recalled that Russia, for its part, has already implemented the decision to withdraw its troops from the Finnish border to a distance of 1,500 kilometers. "However, nothing has changed to date. The number of NATO troops is growing," Putin added.
Sauli Niinisto said Finland wanted to keep the dialogue with Russia open and saw its relations with Russia as a component of its defense.
"I would like to remind about the key components of Finland’s defense. First, it is our own defense. We also maintain cooperation with the West - we actively cooperate with Sweden, the European Union, we are partners with NATO, we maintain bilateral cooperation relations with the United States, including in the sphere of military technologies," he said.
"We also maintain cooperation with Eastern partners, including Russia. We want to keep our dialogue with it open. Finally, Finalnd, as a small state, observes international agreements," he said.