The UK would always help Finland if it were attacked by Russia, whether or not the country was a member of NATO, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said.
Wallace made the claim on May 4 on a visit to Finland, where he observed the "Arrow 22" joint exercises taking place in areas around Satakunta, a region located in southwest Finland.
Finland and Sweden are partners of the NATO military alliance, but not full members. The two countries’ prime ministers said last month they were deliberating whether they should become full NATO members, arguing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had changed Europe’s security landscape and “dramatically shaped mindsets” in the Nordic region.
At a joint press conference with Finnish Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen in Helsinki, Wallace stressed that alliances between European countries “make us safer.”
He said it is “entirely for the freedom of Finland to choose” whether it wants to join NATO, and he was not there to “lobby or direct” what it should do.
He added that Britain would always help Finland defend itself regardless of its relationship with NATO.
He said: “Do I think if Finland didn’t join NATO Britain wouldn’t come along to help? No. Britain will always be here in the Nordics, to be part of you, to help you, to support you.
“It is inconceivable that Britain would not come to the support of Finland, or Sweden, if it was ever attacked, without any big formal agreement. We are European countries who share the same values, who have deep, long histories.”
He added that he “cannot conceive a time when we wouldn’t come to support Finland and Sweden no matter where they were with the NATO debate or where they are with agreements.”
But he stopped short of saying whether such a move would involve British boots on the ground.
Kaikkonen said that it is important for Finland to hear such messages of support from its partners.
Russia has warned that it would deploy nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles in Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania, if Sweden and Finland joined NATO.
On the day of Wallace’s visit, the Finnish Ministry of Defence said a Russian government aircraft was suspected of having violated Finnish airspace.
A Mi-17 helicopter flew a distance of 4–4.5 kilometres (about 2.5 miles) into Finnish territory at around 10:40 on Wednesday morning, according to the ministry.
Kaikkonen said the possibility could not be ruled out that the airspace breach was related to the "Arrow 22" joint military drill.