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Finland to buy Israeli defense systems

Helsinki has narrowed its preference of a list of international developers of anti-aircraft equipment to one of two Israeli companies.

By Erin Viner

The Nordic country issued bids for the defense contract to five companies in October 2020, including Germany’s Diehl Defense, Norway’s Kongsberg Defense & Aerospace, the United Kingdom’s MBDA, Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. and the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

The Finnish Defense Ministry has announced that it will now pursue negotiations with the two Israeli companies before making its final determination.

“In this scheme we will upgrade the anti-aircraft defense’s high-altitude ability and increase significantly its reach,” said the Ministry statement.

Under the anti-aircraft project Finland plans to purchase equipment such as transporter erector launchers, radar systems, missiles and related integration equipment, the ministry said, adding the goal is to make a final purchase decision in early 2023.

Finland, which shares a long 1,340-km (833-mile) border with Russia, has recently decided to further step up its defense spending in Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.  It is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) but is looking to deepen cooperation with the United States

United States President Joe Biden agreed to broaden security ties with his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinistö during an hour-and-a-half long White House meeting last Friday, although he stopped short of making any formal guarantees to the country anxiously monitoring the war in Ukraine.

While neither leader indicated Helsinki’s intention to seek NATO membership or to become a major non-NATO ally of the US – which would facilitate enhanced security cooperation, Biden referred to Finland as a “strong defense partner” that he said is helping a “united trans-Atlantic response to holding Russia accountable.”

“Finland has stirred clearly towards closer cooperation with the United States,” President Niinistö told reporters after thanking Biden for “leadership” in “very difficult times.”

He added that the US and Nordic countries will “initiate a clear process to step up defense and security cooperation” after the White House talks, which included a call to the leader of Finland’s western neighbor Sweden, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.

Andersson and Niinistö held their own summit in in Finland on Saturday

Russia is just as strongly opposed to Finland or Sweden joining the US-led military alliance as it is to Ukraine’s prospective membership. Just a week ago Moscow made its latest warning to Helsinki and Stockholm warning of “serious military-political consequences” if they chose to do so.

Finnish President Niinistö has maintained that his nation, which belongs to the European Union, has the right to seek NATO membership if it wishes, although he has tamped down talk of doing so in the midst of the Ukraine crisis.

Russia has long demanded that the West deny Ukraine’s bid to join NATO.

Public opinion polling in Finland reflects support for full membership of NATO has grown since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces into Ukraine on 24 February.

“This process of security cooperation is about concrete security and defense factors, not so much about memberships,” Niinistö said, while going on to point out that Finland meets NATO’s membership criteria.

“The Presidents committed to start a process that would strengthen US-Finnish security cooperation, which would be conducted in close consultation with other Nordic countries,” the White House said in a statement. Alluding to NATO’s policy of welcoming new members who meet its requirements, the statement revealed that “The Presidents also discussed the importance of NATO’s Open Door policy.”

Finnish Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen is slated to visit the US next week for talks with his American counterpart Lloyd Austin, in addition to a visit at Lockheed Martin facilities in Texas. Kaikkonen will also inspect dozens of F-35 stealth warplanes at an air base in Florida that were purchased in a $9.4 billion deal with the US last month.

Helsinki has historically sought to preserve cordial relations with Moscow. Finland was part of the Swedish kingdom until 1809, then falling under Russian control until gaining independence in 1917.

During a short segment of the Oval Office meeting open to the press, President Biden cited his predecessor Barack Obama’s belief the world would be fine if they left matters up to Nordic countries.

“Well, we usually don’t start wars,” the Finnish President responded.