President Joe Biden is considering a visit to Finland, NATO’s newest member, to coincide with the 30-member bloc’s July summit in Lithuania, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the discussions.
The White House’s discussions of a potential visit have been ongoing for several months and remain active, according to the officials, who said no final decision has been made. Any Finland visit would be for a summit of multiple Nordic countries, not for a bilateral visit, an administration official said.
The National Security Council declined to comment.
Officials see a Finland trip, first and foremost, as an opportunity to highlight what the president acknowledged again this week was one of his proudest accomplishments in office: maintaining, and even expanding the NATO alliance in the face of Russian aggression. As Biden often puts it, Russian President Vladimir Putin expected to see the “Finlandization of NATO” but instead saw the “NATOization of Finland.”
The potential visit would come three months after Finland’s formal — and relatively swift — accession to NATO, nearly a year after applying.
Sweden, which applied at the same time, has failed to garner unanimous support from NATO members. Turkey has blocked Sweden’s application indefinitely over concerns it harbors what Ankara says are members of the Kurdistan Workers Party, a designated terrorist group.
For that reason, experts say a meeting with Biden and multiple Nordic leaders would carry more weight than a bilateral visit to Finland, where the direct security risk remains low despite its 830-mile border with Russia.
“Any visit that has the president of the United States backstopping Sweden while its security status is in limbo is a more significant thing than simply celebrating the accession of Finland,” said Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Politically, though, a presidential visit to Finland could offer a powerful contrast between Biden and his predecessor. It was in Helsinki that former President Donald Trump stood next to Putin and publicly sided with him over his U.S. intelligence agencies on the question of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump said at the time.