By Anne Kauranen and Essi Lehto
HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland will on Monday Dec. 18 sign a defence cooperation agreement with the United States, the Finnish government said on Thursday, to grant the U.S. military broad access across the Nordic country to the vicinity of its long border with Russia.
Russia’s Nordic neighbour Finland became the NATO military alliance’s newest member earlier this year in response to Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
“The fact that there will be no need to agree on everything separately, makes organising peace time operations easier, but above all it can be vital in a crisis,” Finland’s Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen told reporters.
The agreement with the United States is aimed at allowing swift military access and aid to Finland in case of conflict, officials said ahead of the announcement.
The agreement lists 15 facilities and areas in Finland to which the U.S. military will have unimpeded access and where it can also store military equipment and ammunition.
The areas will include four airbases, a military port and railway access to northern Finland, where the U.S. military will have a storage area alongside a railway that leads up to the Russian border, the agreement showed.
As Reuters reported in July, Finland is currently improving its railway infrastructure on its Swedish border, to make it easier for allies to send reinforcements and equipment from across the Atlantic to Kemijarvi, an hour’s drive from the Russian border and seven hours from Russia’s nuclear bastion and military bases near Murmansk in the Kola peninsula.
Neighbouring Sweden, which has also asked to join NATO but has been left waiting due to resistance from existing members Turkey and Hungary, signed a similar agreement with the U.S. last week, giving it access to 17 areas including four air bases, one harbour and five military camps.
Among other NATO members, the U.S. has signed similar agreements with Norway, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Estonia, while the one with Denmark is pending approval.
Finland will not allow storage or transport of nuclear and biological weapons or anti-personnel mines on its territory, in line with international non-proliferation treaties it has committed to previously, officials said.
The U.S. military can have a permanent presence and regular exercises in Finland, but there are no plans for permanent bases, they said.
The agreement will be signed in Washington D.C. on Monday, before official ratification by legislators in both countries.
(Reporting by Essi Lehto and Anne Kauranen in Helsinki, editing by Nick Macfie and Sharon Singleton)