A Russian army helicopter violated Finland’s airspace in an apparent attempt to frighten the country as it readies to join NATO.
The military Mi-17 transport chopper flew 2-3 miles inside the Finnish border after 10.30 this morning (7.30am GMT), according to the country’s Ministry of Defence.
‘The aircraft type is a Mi-17 helicopter and the depth of the suspected violation is about four to five kilometres’, a ministry spokesman told AFP.
Finland has accelerated a bid to join the Western defensive alliance since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, stoking fury in the Kremlin.
The army transport vessel flew 2-3 miles into Finnish airspace after 10.30am local time today. Pictured: Afghan Mi-17 transport helicopter pictured in Kabul, 2017
Sweden is set to join as another historically neutral new entrant to NATO.
Public opinion in both countries has swung in favour of joining since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on February 24.
Putin has promised ‘consequences’ and said he will move Russian nuclear weapons to the nearby Baltic Sea in retaliation.
A Russian lawmaker warned last month Finland would be asking for ‘the destruction of their country’.
Senator Vladimir Dzhabarov said the move is a ‘terrible tragedy’.
Russia previously violated Finnish airspace on April 8, the first time this year.
The news came as a Finnish nuclear provider terminated a contract with Russian state energy firm Rosatom for the delivery of a power plant.
Fennovoima warned the war in Ukraine ‘has worsened the risks for the project’, which was set to generate around 10 per cent of Finland’s electricity needs.
A Russian chopper violated Finnish airspace earlier this year, as well as Sweden and Denmark’s
Moscow forces have flown into Swedish and Danish airspace in recent days, prompting Denmark’s Foreign Minister to summon the Russian Ambassador in Copenhagen.
Jeppe Kofod tweeted on May 1: ‘Another Russian violation of Danish airspace. That is completely unacceptable and extremely worrying in the current situation.’
Experts have warned that Finland and Sweden would likely be subjected to Russian acts of interference as they consider whether to join NATO as a deterrent against aggression from their eastern neighbour.
Hostile acts such as cyberattacks are also considered likely.
A large majority of Finnish MPs and the public are in favour of joining the Atlantic Alliance.
Why are Sweden and Finland not in NATO?
Both Finland and Sweden have been militarily non-aligned since WWII.
Sweden maintained its policy of neutrality – which had begun in the early 19th century – throughout the war wanting to avoid being drawn into a conflict that was engulfing the nearby powers of Germany and the Soviet Union.
Instead, Sweden profited from its neutrality by exporting iron ore to the Nazis and sharing military intelligence with the Allies and training their refugee soldiers.
Meanwhile Finland changed sides in the conflict, first being invaded by Joseph Stalin and assisting the Nazis, before fighting against Hitler’s troops.
When NATO was formed in 1949 for a Western military alliance, Sweden decided not to join and continue its neutrality, introducing a security policy that secured its non-alignment in peace and neutrality in war.
In 1994, Stockholm decided to join the NATO programme Partnership for Peace (PfP), aimed to build trust between member states and other European countries, but until now it has not signalled a desire to fully join the alliance.
Finland is also a PfP member but has similarly stated its desire to remain neutral since the war.
The EU member state was part of the Russian Empire and won independence during the 1917 Russian revolution but it nearly lost it fighting the Soviet Union in World War Two.
Having been invaded by Russia in 1939 and sharing a long border with the superpower, Finland wanted to stay out of future conflicts, giving it the freedom to maintain a strong relationship with Moscow and the West while enjoying a free market economy.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto is set to announce his personal stance on the issue on May 12.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Wednesday that should her country apply, alone or together with neighbouring Sweden, she hopes the application process would be completed ‘as fast as possible’.
‘If Finland and Sweden would decide to apply for a NATO membership, the key issue is to keep the ratification process as short as possible’, she said.
Helsinki is holding talks with key members of the alliance to obtain security guarantees during the application period, which could last several months, Marin told a joint press conference with Nordic leaders in Copenhagen.
According to Finnish media reports, the government’s decision could be made in the next few days.
Finland was ruled by Russia for 108 years before declaring independence in 1917.
It fought off a Soviet invasion during World War II before a peace deal saw it cede several border areas to Moscow.
The Nordic nation remained neutral during the Cold War in exchange for Soviet guarantees not to invade.
On the Swedish side, the government and parliament are due to present a security policy review including viewpoints on NATO membership on May 13.
Stockholm is also currently holding consultations with NATO countries, with its foreign minister travelling to the US and Canada this week.
Four Russian fighter jets violated Swedish airspace in early March near Sweden’s strategically-located island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea.
And on Friday, a Russian spy plane also crossed the Swedish border near a naval base in the south of the country.
NATO leader Jens Stoltenberg said Finland and Sweden would be ‘welcomed with open arms’ should they apply.
They could also be given NATO protections in the period between launching their entry bid and having the move ratified by all the alliance’s member states.
Mr Stoltenberg said in Brussels last week: ‘If they decide to apply, Finland and Sweden will be warmly welcomed and I expect the process to go quickly.’
He also described the countries as ‘our closest partners’, adding: ‘They are strong and mature democracies.
‘Their armed forces meet NATO standards and are interoperable with NATO forces.
‘We train together, we exercise together, and we have also worked with Finland and Sweden in many different missions and operations.’
When Russia last tried to seize Finland… and failed
More than 80 years ago, the small Finland took on the might of the Soviet Union when dictator Joseph Stalin ordered an invasion after its government refused to give up substantial territory.
The Winter War of 1939-1940 – which began less than three months after the start of the Second World War – saw Finland’s forces use innovative tactics to defy Russia’s hopes for a quick, emphatic victory that could have landed Stalin control of the whole country.
Instead, Soviet troops – who numbered around one million – were fiercely resisted for nearly three months, with dramatic photos showing how vehicles and equipment had to be abandoned in the face of the opposition and freezing conditions.
In that time, Russia suffered more than 300,000 casualties – including 126,900 deaths – and lost up to 3,500 tanks and around 500 aircraft.
By comparison, Finland lost 25,900 men out of an original force of around 300,000.
Stories of Finnish heroics include that of a Finnish farmer who became the deadliest sniper in history after killing 505 Soviet troops.
In the fighting, Finland also pioneered the use of the improvised grenade the Molotov cocktail, which was named after the Soviet Union’s foreign minister.
Ultimately however, the sheer numerical superiority of the Soviet Union’s forces took its toll and Finland’s government was eventually forced to sign a peace agreement that forced them to give up around ten per cent of their territory.
Despite the defeat, Finland emerged with its sovereignty intact and its international reputation enhanced, whilst the Soviet Union was kicked out of the League of Nations and was condemned by other world leaders for the illegal invasion.
Finnish sniper Simo Häyhä emerged a hero after racking up the most sniper kills in the history of warfare.
Aged 33 when the war broke out, Häyhä quickly acquired a fearsome reputation, striking the enemy unseen and unheard from hidden positions up to 300 yards from his target.
Nicknamed The White Death, Häyhä was a prime target for the Soviets, who targeted him with mortars and heavy artillery to halt his killing spree, which once claimed 25 men in one day.
Finland then allied with Nazi Germany against the Soviets in what was known as the Continuation War in 1941, with Helsinki trying to retake its lost territories.
After a ceasefire was agreed in the Moscow Armistice in 1944, Finland was ordered to expel Nazi troops stationed in the country, prompting the Lapland War with Germany.
At the Paris Peace Treaty, Finland was classified as an ally with Nazi Germany and ordered to pay reparations.
The country then pursued a policy of neutrality, maintaining a free market economy and democracy despite enjoying a strong relationship with the Soviet Union.