Ukraine live updates: Russia sees a threat as Finland moves closer to joining NATO

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been one of Ukraine’s most assertive supporters in Europe, so the announcement of new security pacts with Sweden and Finland, both wary of a security threat from Moscow, hinges on a hard-line British policy of resistance to Russia. aggression.

However, the agreements cross a new line by saying that Britain can support the two countries militarily if they are attacked by Russia, even if they are not members of NATO, the transatlantic military alliance.

Despite Moscow’s warnings not to do so, Sweden and Finland are discussing whether to apply to NATO, whose Article 5 members include a mutual defense guarantee.

But Mr Johnson’s agreement will provide support for the Swedes and Finns during any NATO accession process, when they are particularly vulnerable to Russian retaliation, or if they decide not to join the club.

Johnson, who visited the two countries on Wednesday, was asked if the agreement could mean the deployment of British forces to Finland, which has an 800-mile border with Russia.

“In the event of a disaster or an attack on any of us, yes, we will help each other, including with military assistance,” he said. He added that the type of assistance would depend on the request submitted.

Sweden and Finland in return offered mutual guarantees to Britain. “We will stand together and support each other in any circumstance in good and bad weather,” Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said, adding that his country’s decision to consider NATO membership was prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier, in Stockholm, after being photographed in a rowing boat with his Swedish counterpart, Magdalena Andersson, Mr Johnson said the agreement with Sweden “enlists the values” that both countries hold dear.

And he added, “As you put it so well, Magdalena, when we were at the lake: we are now literally and figuratively in the same boat.”

For Mr Johnson, who has forged a close relationship with Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, the initiative is to distract attention from his political problems at home after he was Fined by police for breach of lockdown in Downing Street. Asked on Wednesday if it might prompt him to resign, Johnson veered, saying he was focusing more on the threat from Russia.

Wednesday’s move is also in line with Mr Johnson’s efforts to forge a new role in Britain’s post-Brexit foreign policy. Now outside the European Union and unable to influence its decisions, Britain is trying to make the most of its position, along with France, as one of the countries in Western Europe best prepared and able to deploy a significant military force.

In February, Britain announced a tripartite security agreement with Ukraine and Poland, and British ministers made several visits to the Baltic states that feel particularly vulnerable to Russian aggression.

Britain played a leading role in the discussions not only in NATO but in a less prominent diplomatic form, called the Combined Expeditionary Force, which includes Britain, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

Some EU diplomats believe Britain could try to take advantage of this leverage to divide the 27-nation bloc. For example, those member states that receive military support or guarantees from Britain may be reluctant to crack down on London in any escalation of its dispute with the EU over post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland.

But Downing Street, in response to a question Wednesday whether such contacts could be made in talks with Sweden and Finland, said there were no conditions attached to its security guarantee.