HELSINKI ― Russia has issued a fresh warning to Finland against joining NATO. Moscow has already issued a similar caution to Sweden, while Denmark has been told that it can expect “retaliatory countermeasures” by Russia should it decide to join NATO’s missile defense system in Europe.

The Kremlin’s discontent with Finland centers on the nonaligned Nordic country’s deepening defense relations with the U.S. and NATO. Fundamentally, Russia’s chief concern is that Finland, as part of a long-term plan and expanded defense strategy, may decide to join the Western alliance and extend NATO’s reach.

Russia’s warning to Helsinki, delivered by its ambassador to Finland, Pavel Kuznetsov, is fueled by Moscow’s fear of having large-scale NATO forces along its approximately 840-mile border with Finland.

“While each country has the right to define its own national security and defense policy, everyone understands that should the NATO infrastructure advance towards our borders, Russia would be forced to take appropriate countermeasures,” Kuznetsov said.

In Finland, such countermeasures are understood to largely mean economic sanctions and damaging trade curbs on Finnish exports and capital investments in Russia.

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Possible future membership of NATO is also likely to hurt Finland’s collaborative industrial relationship with Russia.

Moscow has tried, unsuccessfully, to promote strong military cooperation with Helsinki as a strategic political tool to weaken Finland’s closer links to NATO.

To this end, Russia opened defense-industrial collaboration talks with Finland in 2013, offering Finnish companies the prospect of subcontracting to large defense contracts in Russia.

The talks resulted in the defense ministries in both countries establishing working groups to identify potential areas for defense-industrial cooperation, including the possibility that primary Russian defense programs could be opened to Finnish subcontractors.

Talks never reached the bilateral negotiations, stalling in February 2014 when Russia sent troops and military equipment into Ukraine. This action triggered an immediate sanctions response by the U.S. and the European Union that also blocked military equipment exports and cooperation with Russia.

Support for NATO membership is growing in certain political quarters in Finland. Nils Torvalds ― a member of the European Parliament and the Swedish People’s Party of Finland’s candidate in the January 2018 presidential election ― is openly campaigning for Finland to join NATO.

“Finland’s long-term security needs would be better served inside the NATO alliance. Our long-term policies should not be dictated by Russia as has happened in the past,” Torvalds said.

Finland has participated in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program since 1994. Finland recently opened in Helsinki ― in cooperation with NATO and the EU ― a cyber defense center to counter hybrid threats.

While popular opinion in Finland increasingly weighs on the side of the country remaining untied to global military alliances, latest polls show that just 21 percent of Finns support joining NATO. About 51 percent of Finns are opposed, preferring that Finland retains its nonaligned status.

Gerard O'Dwyer reported on Scandinavian affairs for Defense News.

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