WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden meets his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinistö at the White House on Friday as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sparks fresh concerns among Vladimir Putin’s other European neighbors.
The talks come as the Russian president’s invasion of Ukraine, which lasted more than a week, has sparked talks in Finland about a closer alliance with NATO, with which it already cooperates but does not is not a member. Biden and Niinistö have spoken to each other twice in the past few months.
Finns are traditionally wary of Russia, given the Nordic country’s shared 833-mile (1,340 km) border and a history of two wars between 1939 and 1944 that claimed Finnish territory.
But Finland, a member of the European Union that was part of the Kingdom of Sweden until 1809 and then under Russian control until independence in 1917, has also sought to preserve friendly relations with Moscow.
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Russia does not want Finland to join NATO, but Niinistö said the country retains the right to apply for membership. The Ukrainian government also maintained its right to do so before the Russian invasion.
Biden and Niinistö will “discuss the U.S.-Finnish defense relationship, which is very strong and actually complements Finland’s close partnership with NATO,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in preview of the visit.
The Finnish public is increasingly attached to the idea of joining NATO. A poll by public broadcaster Yle last Monday found that 53% of Finns were in favor of membership, up from 28% when the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper asked the question in late January.
The Finnish government has sought to calm campaigns to join the US-led defense bloc. Niinistö said in a statement that people should “keep a cool head and carefully assess the impact of the changes that have already taken place and those that may yet occur.”
Finland joined other countries on Thursday in boycotting Arctic Council meetings Russia was planning to hold in May.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Leslie Adler)
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