HELSINKI — Finland’s defense minister has rejected claims that he engaged in a “solo run” to invite the United States to participate in an unscheduled large-scale military exercise in Finland in 2020-2021.
Jussi Niinistö has been widely criticized for inviting the U.S. military to “unscheduled exercises” and without using official channels to consult with government colleagues, the parliamentary Defence Committee or the Finnish armed forces’ command structure.
“We were not aware about preparations for any new exercise. Certainly, no kind of preparations have been made. Questions need to be asked about the minister and the entire decision-making system,” said Tuula Haatainen, a Social Democratic member of the Defence Committee.
Jussi Niinistö has dismissed criticism, insisting that he did discuss U.S. forces’ participation in the multibranch exercises with President Sauli Niinistö, who is also the commander in chief of Finland’s military.
“I had discussions with the president of the republic before and during the furor over this issue,” the defense minister said.
The defense minister told a special hearing of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee that he did not extend a formal invite to American forces during his recent meeting in Helsinki with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
“There was no invitation. I just informed Defense Secretary Mattis of the possibility of organizing international military exercises in Finland after 2020,” Jussi Niinistö said.
The Defence Committee said it was unaware of the multibranch exercises mentioned by the minister, who described the maneuvers in question as being at the “conceptual” stage and not among the list of exercises currently on the armed forces’ schedule for 2018-2021.
The Finnish Cabinet Committee on Foreign and Security Policy is slated to meet with the country’s president in December to ratify which military exercises will take place in the 2018-2021 period.
The defense minister said his “new exercise proposal” would be added to the list of military maneuvers considered at the December meeting.
Finland and Sweden jointly support larger-scale exercises involving U.S. and NATO forces. Finland wants to use future larger-scale multibranch exercises to reflect deepening military cooperation with European Union member states.