HELSINKI — Russian Gen. Nikolai Makarov has created a political stir and generated a backlash from Finland and Sweden after he warned the neutral Nordic states that any moves to join or develop closer ties with NATO would be construed as hostile actions toward Moscow.
“Military cooperation between Russia and NATO is progressing well and is beneficial to both parties. In contrast, cooperation between Finland and NATO threatens Russia’s security. Finland should not desire NATO membership, rather it should preferably have closer military cooperation with Russia,” Makarov said.
The Russian military chief also questioned the right of Finland’s Armed Forces to hold military exercises close to the Russian border. “Who are these aimed against?” Makarov asked.
Moreover, Makarov described the continuing Nordic defense cooperation project as being an unnecessary distraction and a potential military threat to Russia.
The remarks, which were made during an address by the Russian military commander to a seminar organized by the Finnish National Defense Course Association in Helsinki, also included an invitation to Finland and Sweden to bypass NATO and develop closer military relations with Russia.
Makarov’s comments were rebuffed in Helsinki and Stockholm, with Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja confirming that the Finnish government would seek clarification to determine if Makarov’s comments reflect official Kremlin policy.
“In Sweden’s view, every country has the right to independently make its own security policy choices. Exercises are part of the autonomous decision-making process. Sweden considers it important to have a dialogue with other countries. Although we have different opinions on certain issues, Russia is an important country in our neighborhood and one we want to work with,” Swedish Defense Minister Karin Enström said.
Moscow’s initial informal response to Helsinki has been to distance itself from Makarov’s remarks, while adopting the position that the military commander was expressing his personal opinions.
The Finnish government quickly denounced Makarov’s comments. Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen stated that all decisions relating to political and military issues will continue to be made “independently and democratically” in Finland, not in Moscow.
“Finland will make its own decisions and [do] what is best for Finland. Such decisions will not be left to Russian generals. Our decisions relating to military exercises are a part of the process of our national sovereignty. Our soldiers train where there is reason to do so from a national defense perspective,” said Katainen.
Tuomioja was even more critical of Makarov.
“Gen. Makarov is not the only general who lives in the world of the Cold War, and Russia is not the only country where such generals exist. However, this kind of time-machine speech should no longer come from responsible Russian leaders,” said Tuomioja.
Jussi Niinistö, the chairman of Finland’s Parliamentary Defense Committee, said the views expressed by Makarov are shared by a large number of senior government and military officials in Russia.
“NATO’s expansion in the region is not welcomed by Russia. It sees this development as a threat to its national security. The general’s remarks also reflect the ongoing dispute between Russia and the U.S. regarding missile deployment in Europe,” Niinistö said.
Finnish Defense Minister Stefan Wallin described Makarov’s remarks as regrettable, misplaced and out of touch with reality.
“We are a free nation. Finland evaluates its relationship with NATO in a manner that is consistent with its government policy program and on the basis of its own national security and defense policy interests. We make our assessments and decisions independently, Wallin said.