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British tanks join Nato war games in Finland as Defence Secretary warns Putin that UK would support Finns or Swedes if Russians invaded even if they don’t join defence alliance

  • Challenger 2 tanks and troops from Queen’s Royal Hussars take part in joint NATO war games in Finland 
  • Defence Secretary Ben Wallace spoke out after the Scandinavian states were openly threatened by Moscow
  • Sweden and Finland broke from tradition to express their desire to join Nato since Russia invaded Ukraine
  • Reports suggest they could apply before the end of May, despite repeated Kremlin threats of aggression 

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British tanks have been pictured in war games action alongside their Nato allies as the UK warned they would come to the aid of Finland and Sweden if they were attacked by Vladimir Putin’s forces.

Challenger 2 tanks and troops from the Queen’s Royal Hussars worked alongside members of the Finnish Armoured Brigade and American, Latvian and Estonian allies in as the military alliance today flexed its muscles in response to Russian aggression.

The war games, dubbed Exercise Arrow, will see Nato troops work alongside Finnish units to improve joint responses and to improve mechanised units’ operational land viability in varied environments.

Service personnel, reservists and conscripts will also be tested on their abilities as the exercise kicked off today and will last until Friday, May 13.

Tens of thousands of Nato and Joint Expeditionary Force troops are expected to be involved in war drills across the continent this summer in the wake of Putin’s bloody invasion in Ukraine.

The developments come as Defence Secretary Ben Wallace warned it was ‘inconceivable’ that the UK would not ‘support’ the Scandinavian states, which have been threatened by Moscow. 

Finland and its neighbour Sweden have expressed a desire to join the military pact since Putin launched his savage invasion of Ukraine in February. 

Reuters reported this week that Helsinki will formally announce its bid to join on May 12 with Sweden following suit days later. 

£4m Challenger 2 tanks and troops from the Queen's Royal Hussars are pictured taking part in the exercise Arrow 22 in Niinisalo, Finland

£4m Challenger 2 tanks and troops from the Queen’s Royal Hussars are pictured taking part in the exercise Arrow 22 in Niinisalo, Finland

The 65-tonne third generation weapon systems, which cost on average £4m to construct, were designed to counter the threat of a Cold War Soviet Union

The 65-tonne third generation weapon systems, which cost on average £4m to construct, were designed to counter the threat of a Cold War Soviet Union

Soldiers take part in NATO's Arrow 22 war games

Soldiers take part in NATO's Arrow 22 war games

 Pictured: Land units pictured taking part in the joint-Nato Arrow 22 war games in Niinisalo, Finland on Wednesday

A Finnish tank is pictured racing across an open area during Arrow 22 operation in Finland. Latvia, the US and Estonia are also taking part in the war games

A Finnish tank is pictured racing across an open area during Arrow 22 operation in Finland. Latvia, the US and Estonia are also taking part in the war games

American soldiers take part in the military exercise Arrow 22 in Niinisalo, Finland on Wednesday May 4, 2022

American soldiers take part in the military exercise Arrow 22 in Niinisalo, Finland on Wednesday May 4, 2022

The war games, dubbed Exercise Arrow, will see Nato troops work alongside Finnish units to improve joint responses and to improve mechanised units' operational land viability in varied environments

The war games, dubbed Exercise Arrow, will see Nato troops work alongside Finnish units to improve joint responses and to improve mechanised units’ operational land viability in varied environments

Tens of thousands of troops from NATO and Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) allies and partners will be involved in NATO exercises this year

Tens of thousands of troops from NATO and Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) allies and partners will be involved in NATO exercises this year

Defence Secretary Bern Wallace said it was ‘inconceivable’ that the UK would not ‘support’ the Scandinavian states, which have been threatened by Moscow

Mr Wallace is pictured above meeting with UK personnel who will train alongside Finnish, US, Latvian and Estonian forces in Niinisalo, Finland until May 13

Mr Wallace is pictured above meeting with UK personnel who will train alongside Finnish, US, Latvian and Estonian forces in Niinisalo, Finland until May 13

Flanking his Finnish counterpart Antti Kaikkonen on a visit to Finland to see UK troops take part in military exercises, Mr Wallace said stressed that alliances between European countries ‘make us safer’.

He told reporters it is ‘entirely for the freedom of Finland to choose’ whether it wants to become a Nato member, and added he is not going to ‘lobby or direct’ what it should do.

Mr Wallace 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.

‘A significant number of the British population seem to be descended from Vikings anyhow, so we have that cultural link.

‘I 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.’

Finland and Sweden have historically avoided NATO membership, despite close alignment with the West, in an effort not to provoke Russia.

Both have been militarily non-aligned since the Second World War. Sweden had  maintained its policy of neutrality – which had begun in the early 19th century – throughout the war wanting to avoid being drawn into a conflict that was engulfing the nearby powers of Germany and the Soviet Union.

Flanking his Finnish counterpart Antti Kaikkonen on a visit to Finland to see UK troops take part in military exercises, Mr Wallace said stressed that alliances between European countries 'make us safer'

 Flanking his Finnish counterpart Antti Kaikkonen on a visit to Finland to see UK troops take part in military exercises, Mr Wallace said stressed that alliances between European countries ‘make us safer’

Finland and its neighbour Sweden have expressed a desire to join the military pact since Putin launched his savage invasion of Ukraine in February.

Finland and its neighbour Sweden have expressed a desire to join the military pact since Putin launched his savage invasion of Ukraine in February.

Instead, it profited from its neutrality by exporting iron ore to the Nazis and sharing military intelligence with the Allies and training refugee soldiers. 

Meanwhile Finland changed sides in the conflict, first being invaded by Joseph Stalin and assisting the Nazis, before fighting against Hitler’s troops. It was formerly part of the Russian Empire and won independence during the 1917 Russian revolution.

When NATO was formed in 1949 for a Western military alliance, Sweden decided not to join and continue its neutrality, introducing a security policy that secured its non-alignment in peace and neutrality in war. 

In 1994, Stockholm decided to join the NATO programme Partnership for Peace (PfP), aimed to build trust between member states and other European countries, but until now it has not signalled a desire to fully join the alliance.

Finland is also a PfP member but has similarly stated its desire to remain neutral since the war. 

Moscow lawmaker Vladimir Dzhabarov recently warned Finland that a formal application would mean ‘the destruction of the country’, while another Kremlin spokesman Alexander Grushko threatening ‘the most undesirable consequences’. 

But Putin’s invasion has decisively changed public opinion in the Scandinavian countries after Russia began the war with a barrage of rhetoric about stopping Nato expansion. 

Russia taunts Finland by flying a military helicopter INTO its airspace as the Nordic country prepares to join NATO to the Kremlin’s fury 

By Adam Solomons for MailOnline 

A Russian army helicopter violated Finland‘s airspace in an apparent attempt to frighten the country as it readies to join NATO.

The military Mi-17 transport chopper flew 2-3 miles inside the Finnish border after 10.30 this morning (7.30am GMT), according to the country’s Ministry of Defence.

‘The aircraft type is a Mi-17 helicopter and the depth of the suspected violation is about four to five kilometres’, a ministry spokesman told AFP.

Finland has accelerated a bid to join the Western defensive alliance since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, stoking fury in the Kremlin.

The army transport vessel flew 2-3 miles into Finnish airspace after 10.30am local time today. Pictured: Afghan Mi-17 transport helicopter pictured in Kabul, 2017

The army transport vessel flew 2-3 miles into Finnish airspace after 10.30am local time today. Pictured: Afghan Mi-17 transport helicopter pictured in Kabul, 2017

Sweden is set to join as another historically neutral new entrant to NATO. 

Public opinion in both countries has swung in favour of joining since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on February 24. 

Putin has promised ‘consequences’ and said he will move Russian nuclear weapons to the nearby Baltic Sea in retaliation.

A Russian lawmaker warned last month Finland would be asking for ‘the destruction of their country’.

Senator Vladimir Dzhabarov said the move is a ‘terrible tragedy’.

Russia previously violated Finnish airspace on April 8, the first time this year.

The news came as a Finnish nuclear provider terminated a contract with Russian state energy firm Rosatom for the delivery of a power plant. 

Fennovoima warned the war in Ukraine ‘has worsened the risks for the project’, which was set to generate around 10 per cent of Finland’s electricity needs.

A Russian chopper violated Finnish airspace earlier this year, as well as Sweden and Denmark's

A Russian chopper violated Finnish airspace earlier this year, as well as Sweden and Denmark’s

Moscow forces have flown into Swedish and Danish airspace in recent days, prompting Denmark’s Foreign Minister to summon the Russian Ambassador in Copenhagen.

Jeppe Kofod tweeted on May 1: ‘Another Russian violation of Danish airspace. That is completely unacceptable and extremely worrying in the current situation.’

Experts have warned that Finland and Sweden would likely be subjected to Russian acts of interference as they consider whether to join NATO as a deterrent against aggression from their eastern neighbour.

Hostile acts such as cyberattacks are also considered likely.

Why are Sweden and Finland not in NATO? 

Both Finland and Sweden have been militarily non-aligned since WWII.

Sweden maintained its policy of neutrality – which had begun in the early 19th century – throughout the war wanting to avoid being drawn into a conflict that was engulfing the nearby powers of Germany and the Soviet Union.

Instead, Sweden profited from its neutrality by exporting iron ore to the Nazis and sharing military intelligence with the Allies and training their refugee soldiers. 

Meanwhile Finland changed sides in the conflict, first being invaded by Joseph Stalin and assisting the Nazis, before fighting against Hitler’s troops.

When NATO was formed in 1949 for a Western military alliance, Sweden decided not to join and continue its neutrality, introducing a security policy that secured its non-alignment in peace and neutrality in war. 

In 1994, Stockholm decided to join the NATO programme Partnership for Peace (PfP), aimed to build trust between member states and other European countries, but until now it has not signalled a desire to fully join the alliance.

Finland is also a PfP member but has similarly stated its desire to remain neutral since the war.

The EU member state was part of the Russian Empire and won independence during the 1917 Russian revolution but it nearly lost it fighting the Soviet Union in World War Two. 

Having been invaded by Russia in 1939 and sharing a long border with the superpower, Finland wanted to stay out of future conflicts, giving it the freedom to maintain a strong relationship with Moscow and the West while enjoying a free market economy. 

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A large majority of Finnish MPs and the public are in favour of joining the Atlantic Alliance. 

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto is set to announce his personal stance on the issue on May 12. 

Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Wednesday that should her country apply, alone or together with neighbouring Sweden, she hopes the application process would be completed ‘as fast as possible’.

‘If Finland and Sweden would decide to apply for a NATO membership, the key issue is to keep the ratification process as short as possible’, she said.

Helsinki is holding talks with key members of the alliance to obtain security guarantees during the application period, which could last several months, Marin told a joint press conference with Nordic leaders in Copenhagen.

According to Finnish media reports, the government’s decision could be made in the next few days.

Finland was ruled by Russia for 108 years before declaring independence in 1917.

It fought off a Soviet invasion during World War II before a peace deal saw it cede several border areas to Moscow.

The Nordic nation remained neutral during the Cold War in exchange for Soviet guarantees not to invade.

On the Swedish side, the government and parliament are due to present a security policy review including viewpoints on NATO membership on May 13.

Stockholm is also currently holding consultations with NATO countries, with its foreign minister travelling to the US and Canada this week.

Four Russian fighter jets violated Swedish airspace in early March near Sweden’s strategically-located island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea.

And on Friday, a Russian spy plane also crossed the Swedish border near a naval base in the south of the country.

NATO leader Jens Stoltenberg said Finland and Sweden would be ‘welcomed with open arms’ should they apply.

They could also be given NATO protections in the period between launching their entry bid and having the move ratified by all the alliance’s member states.

Mr Stoltenberg said in Brussels last week: ‘If they decide to apply, Finland and Sweden will be warmly welcomed and I expect the process to go quickly.’

He also described the countries as ‘our closest partners’, adding: ‘They are strong and mature democracies.

‘Their armed forces meet NATO standards and are interoperable with NATO forces.

‘We train together, we exercise together, and we have also worked with Finland and Sweden in many different missions and operations.’

When Russia last tried to seize Finland… and failed 

More than 80 years ago, the small Finland took on the might of the Soviet Union when dictator Joseph Stalin ordered an invasion after its government refused to give up substantial territory.

The Winter War of 1939-1940 – which began less than three months after the start of the Second World War – saw Finland’s forces use innovative tactics to defy Russia’s hopes for a quick, emphatic victory that could have landed Stalin control of the whole country.

Instead, Soviet troops – who numbered around one million – were fiercely resisted for nearly three months, with dramatic photos showing how vehicles and equipment had to be abandoned in the face of the opposition and freezing conditions.

In that time, Russia suffered more than 300,000 casualties – including 126,900 deaths – and lost up to 3,500 tanks and around 500 aircraft.

By comparison, Finland lost 25,900 men out of an original force of around 300,000.

Stories of Finnish heroics include that of a Finnish farmer who became the deadliest sniper in history after killing 505 Soviet troops.

In the fighting, Finland also pioneered the use of the improvised grenade the Molotov cocktail, which was named after the Soviet Union’s foreign minister.

Ultimately however, the sheer numerical superiority of the Soviet Union’s forces took its toll and Finland’s government was eventually forced to sign a peace agreement that forced them to give up around ten per cent of their territory.

Despite the defeat, Finland emerged with its sovereignty intact and its international reputation enhanced, whilst the Soviet Union was kicked out of the League of Nations and was condemned by other world leaders for the illegal invasion.

Finnish sniper Simo Häyhä emerged a hero after racking up the most sniper kills in the history of warfare.

Aged 33 when the war broke out, Häyhä quickly acquired a fearsome reputation, striking the enemy unseen and unheard from hidden positions up to 300 yards from his target.

Nicknamed The White Death, Häyhä was a prime target for the Soviets, who targeted him with mortars and heavy artillery to halt his killing spree, which once claimed 25 men in one day.

Finland then allied with Nazi Germany against the Soviets in what was known as the Continuation War in 1941, with Helsinki trying to retake its lost territories.

After a ceasefire was agreed in the Moscow Armistice in 1944, Finland was ordered to expel Nazi troops stationed in the country, prompting the Lapland War with Germany.

At the Paris Peace Treaty, Finland was classified as an ally with Nazi Germany and ordered to pay reparations.

The country then pursued a policy of neutrality, maintaining a free market economy and democracy despite enjoying a strong relationship with the Soviet Union. 

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