Finland army chief urges Europe to be prepared for Russia testing unity

Finland's defence chief sees Russia unlikely to attack NATO
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By Anne Kauranen

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland's new armed forces chief said Russia was unlikely to test NATO's mutual defence clause by attacking a NATO member state in the coming years, but may well continue what he said were hybrid attacks such as jamming and election interference.

Some Western leaders, such as U.S. President Joe Biden, Germany's top military official and Denmark's defence minister, have expressed concern that Russia's longer term plans could include an attack against NATO.

"Of course testing the Article 5 is always possible, but if we take correct action and maintain unity, I consider an attack unlikely," General Janne Jaakkola said told Reuters.

Jaakkola, whose job is to closely watch what Russia does behind the long border it shares with Finland, said right now Moscow was too busy preparing for its new summer offensive in Ukraine to consider an attack against NATO.

At the end of last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin himself dismissed the idea of attacking NATO as nonsense but the Kremlin has also warned that a conflict between Russia and NATO would be inevitable if European members of NATO sent troops to fight in Ukraine.

However, Jaakkola said Russia was likely to continue what he described as hybrid attacks against European countries, in the form of GPS jamming, influence operations and by targeting its neighbours including Finland with migrants.

The Kremlin routinely denies meddling in elections and weaponising migration. It did not respond to a request for comment about allegations of jamming by Estonia last month but has previously denied attempting to develop jamming technology.

"The point for the Russians is that they wish to cause as much division in Europe as possible, so that our unity and cohesion is a bit weaker," Jaakkola said.

Jaakkola nomination to lead the Nordic country's defence from April 1 marked the first anniversary of Finland's membership in the Western military alliance, which it joined in response to Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

As well as joining NATO, Finland has increased its defence spending, amounting to 2.5% of gross domestic product in 2023 and 2.31% this year, renewed its fighter jet fleet, signed a bilateral defence cooperation agreement with the U.S., and is doubling its ammunition production capacity by 2027.

"The direction of our defence and therefore deterrence is upwards," he said.

(Reporting by Anne Kauranen in Helsinki; Editing by Alison Williams)