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NATO newcomer Finland is now a ‘front-line state’ for the alliance, Finnish president says

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Finnish President Alexander Stubb said Tuesday that joining the NATO alliance a year ago has transformed his country into a “front-line state,” given that it has doubled the military bloc’s border with Russia.

Finland, which became the 31st NATO member in April 202 3, has a 1,340-kilometer (832-mile) land border with Russia that runs mostly through thick forests in the south and rugged landscape in the Arctic north.

Stubb was visiting neighboring Sweden and spoke at a joint news conference in Stockholm on Tuesday with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson. For decades, the two countries embraced a policy of neutrality, refusing to take sides in wars or join any military alliance, but that changed after Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022.

“Sweden and Finland therefore not only share a common history. We very much share a common future,” Kristersson said at the news conference. His country became the 32nd NATO member in March.

Finland was part of the Kingdom of Sweden – essentially constituting the nation’s eastern half – for nearly 700 years until 1809 when the area known now as Finland was ceded to the Russian Empire as a result of Europe’s Napoleonic Wars. The autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland declared its independence from Russia in 1917 amid the Russian Revolution.

Earlier in the day, Stubb, who was elected the Nordic country’s president in February, said joining NATO “was the final step in adopting the Western community of values” for both countries. The two countries joined the European Union in 1995.

”Finland and Sweden play a key role in promoting peace. It sounds paradoxical, but that is precisely why we want a strong military and why we joined NATO,” Stubb said as he addressed the Swedish parliament.

Stubb, who spoke in Swedish, which is Finland’s second official language, said it was “impossible to overstate how important it was that we took this step together.”

Unlike in most European countries, the president of Finland holds executive power in formulating foreign and security policy together with the government, especially concerning countries outside the EU such as the United States, Russia and China.

Stubb was on his first state visit abroad to Sweden where he was received by Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf and his wife Queen Silvia, among others.

—- Jari Tanner in Helsinki contributed to this report. ___

Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

By JAN M. OLSEN
Associated Press

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