Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö has said his country can give Ukrainian forces the training they need to take on Russian aggression.
After observing Finnish Army field exercises in North Karelia, Niinistö suggested that Finland can help Ukraine’s war effort, telling reporters that it would back up the military equipment it is sending to Kyiv with the training required to operate it.
“Of course, training on these could be very appropriate,” Niinistö said on Tuesday, Finnish media outlet YLE reported, “we know how to use them.”
Newsweek has contacted the Ukrainian defense ministry for comment.
Niinistö had observed his country’s Kontio 22 exercises which started last week and finished on Friday, and involved the Army working with Finnish Air Force and Border Guard troops.
His comments come as the war heads into winter amid uncertainty over what the colder climate will mean for hostilities.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned Tuesday that Russia was using winter as a “weapon of war” following strikes against Ukrainian infrastructure which he expected Russia would step up because it is actually failing on the battlefield.”
Ukraine’s allies have given arms worth billions of dollars to Kyiv, which is pleading for more air defense, tanks and longer-range missiles, although there are concerns that weapon stores in some NATO countries are running low.
Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has had a particular impact on Finland, which shares an 830-mile long border with Russia and was once part of the Russian empire.
Finland gained independence from Russia in 1917. In 1939, the Soviet Union invaded the country sparking what is known asthe Winter War. Following a peace treaty in 1940, the countries clashed again in the Continuation War between 1941 and 1944.
In February, Niinistö compared the tensions before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine to pre-Winter War Finland, when Soviet leader Joseph Stalin thought he could divide the Finnish population, but instead the population came together.
Concerned about the threat posed by Russia, Finland announced in May it would seek to join NATO, ending decades of neutrality.
Finnish membership of the alliance has been welcomed by Stoltenberg, although it requires unanimity among all its members, and so far, it has met with opposition from Turkey, which is also against Finland’s neighbor, Sweden, joining.
Niinistö also said Tuesday that he expected the ratification to drag on and that the solution to the process “lies in the head of one man, that is of President (Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan.”
“That is being affected by the state of Turkey’s [spring] elections and Turkey’s internal politics,” he said.
Katie Laatikainen, a political science professor at New York’s Adelphi University, said that despite Russian threats, Finland has been among the most steadfast supporters of Ukraine in the war.
Finnish training for Ukrainian troops “indicates that Finnish neutrality is unlikely to return even if Swedish and Finnish membership in NATO continues to be delayed by Turkish foot-dragging.
“Of course, the long land border with Russia means Finland is quite exposed, but Finnish confidence has probably also been boosted by the momentum produced by Ukrainian recovery of territory in recent months,” she told Global Defense Corp.
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