Finland, Sweden increase cooperation with NATO in shadow of Ukraine crisis

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HELSINKI — Finland and Sweden plan to work more closely with NATO by signing a pact that allows assistance from alliance troops in the Nordic countries in emergency situations, officials said Wednesday.

The move comes as NATO prepares for a summit next week in Wales amid heightened tensions with Russia over the crisis in Ukraine. Finland shares a 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) border with Russia.

The Finnish government said the Host Nation Support agreement applies to situations which include "disasters, disruptions and threats to security." It also enables joint training exercises and military cooperation.

Finnish Defense Ministry senior adviser Mika Varvikko said Finland intends to sign the agreement at next week's NATO summit. Sweden is also expected to do so.

Both countries, which already train and work closely with NATO in international operations, insisted the agreement doesn't mean they were moving closer to joining the alliance.

"There is a very sharp difference between being a member and not being a member," Swedish Defense Minister Karin Enstrom told The Associated Press. "We are an active partner with NATO and we want to deepen our partnership with NATO."

Opinion polls in Finland and Sweden show majority opposition to NATO membership. Both countries were officially neutral during the Cold War.

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