August 30, 2014 / 6:26 PM / 5 years ago

Finnish PM says Russia trying to irritate with airspace violation

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Russia is trying to irritate Finland by its repeated violations of Finnish airspace, Prime Minister Alexander Stubb said on Saturday, while playing down suggestions that the Nordic country was edging closer to NATO.

EU member Finland has accused Russia, its eastern neighbor and former ruler, of violating its airspace with state planes three times in less than a week and added it would step up airborne monitoring of flights.

Stubb, who took part in the EU summit in Brussels on Saturday which focused on the Ukraine crisis, said he was concerned over the airspace incidents and demanded an explanation.

“It is a bad message (from Russia). Neighbors do not act like this to each other... It is clear that Russia aims to irritate,” he said in a television interview with public broadcaster YLE.

“But there is no point in comparing Ukraine and Finland, we have good relationship with Russia,” he added.

Finland this week increased ties to NATO by entering into a framework arrangement to outline co-operation in emergencies, and some saw the deal as a step closer to full membership in the middle of the Ukraine crisis.

Stubb dismissed such suggestions, saying the arrangement had been discussed since 2002 and was usual co-operation.

“In Finland, the NATO debate runs wild at times. We are not inching towards NATO. The membership is like pregnancy, you either have it or you don’t. We are not applying for membership.”

The Finnish deal, officially called a Memorandum of Understanding on Host Nation Support, sets general guidelines on external assistance, but details of each case will have to be decided separately. It does not require either party to give or accept assistance or forces.

“Co-operation with NATO is very important to us, especially now as they are cutting down crisis management operations,” said Stubb, who himself favors membership for Finland.

Opinion polls show only one fifth of Finns support joining the Atlantic alliance, but many politicians consider that Finland should seriously consider membership.

Finland shares a 1,300 kilometer (800 mile) border with Russia and maintains generally cordial relations with the country, which is also one of its most important trade partners.

Reporting By Jussi Rosendahl; Editing by Stephen Powell

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