Finnish President Sauli Niinisto made it clear Tuesday to his country's Baltic neighbors of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia that Helsinki would not be able to help them against any future Russian hostility, according to a Defense News report. Like the Baltic states, Finland shares a large border with Russia that has seen an increased level of military buildup since Europe imposed economic sanctions on Moscow for its annexation of Crimea and continued involvement in the eastern Ukraine war.
Estonia and Latvia share a border with the Russian mainland, whereas Lithuania is bordered by the Russian-held enclave of Kaliningrad.
"Every now and then we hear the idea that Finland could be partially responsible for the defense of the Baltics," said Niinisto during talks with Finnish ambassadors over rising regional tensions. "Finland is not in a position where it could offer others security guarantees which we ourselves don't even have."
Russia's military has been highly active in the Baltic region since its actions in Ukraine created a dangerous division between East and West. While the taking of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine was peaceful, the ensuing war in eastern Ukraine, which NATO and European Union (EU) leaders say Russia is still involved in, has created the most fear in Europe and has highlighted the lengths to which Moscow is willing go in order to maintain control over the region.
All three Baltic States were still under Soviet rule as recently as 1991, but they are now all members of the EU and the NATO alliance, both of which Russia sees as threats to its regional superiority.
Finland has never been part of NATO and protects its 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border with Russia alone. "Our eastern border (with Russia) is longer than those of all NATO countries together. If a nation of a little over 5 million people is in charge of its defense on its own, it is enough responsibility to bear," said Niinisto.
NATO and Finland have a loose military relationship; as part of this, Finnish troops take part in some alliance exercises, although Helsinki is still reluctant to formally join the 28-country bloc. Niinisto says that Finland will continue to build its own defense relationships with its Nordic neighbors and other regional allies.