Finland will soon host naval drills alongside NATO members Estonia, Latvia and the Netherlands, its military said, following recent reports that both Helsinki and Stockholm could apply to join the North Atlantic military bloc as early as next month.
Finland’s Coastal Fleet announced the upcoming exercises on Monday, stating that warships from the three allied nations would join local forces for two days of training in the Baltic Sea later this week.
The drills will include Dutch and Estonian mine-hunting vessels, as well as a mine-laying ship from Latvia – all belonging to NATO’s Mine Action Division – and are planned to focus on mine “clearance” and “countermeasures.” Two Finnish Katanpaa-class mine-sweepers will also take part in the training.
Planned since last year, the exercises will be conducted in the Archipelago Sea within the Baltic, around 330 miles from Russia’s coastal city of St. Petersburg, its second-largest metropolis.
The training mission will follow a NATO military meeting in Turku, Finland this week, and comes amid reports that Helsinki and neighboring Sweden are seeking to join the alliance. On Monday, local newspapers reported that both Nordic states could declare plans to apply for membership by mid-May, after Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson met with her Finnish counterpart Sanna Marin to discuss the issue earlier this month.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has indicated both countries would be accepted with open arms should they submit membership applications, and could even be fast-tracked into the military bloc.
Historically neutral countries, Finland and Sweden have increasingly discussed NATO membership in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, with leaders saying the attack changed the “security landscape” in Europe and “dramatically shaped” opinion in the region. Recent surveys indicate growing support for membership, with some polls showing that up to 68% of Finns and 57% of Swedes are now in favor.
Russia – which shares an 810-mile border with Finland – has repeatedly warned against such a move, even vowing to station hypersonic and nuclear weapons in the Baltic region to restore military “balance” there. With Moscow busy fighting for control over eastern (and potentially southern) Ukraine, however, it remains to be seen how it would respond should the two nations join in the coming weeks as reported.