Moscow said Finland’s accession, which would add hundreds of kilometers to NATO’s shared border with Russia, would threaten its security. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peksov said Finnish membership may require new measures by Russia to “balance the situation”.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin, announcing their positions after weeks of internal deliberations, said the militarily non-aligned nation must “apply for NATO membership without delay”.
“As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance,” it said in a statement. The decision, which has to be approved by the Finnish Parliament, is expected to be finalized in the coming days.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine changed the security situation not only for Finland. “The war started by Russia endangers the security and stability of the whole of Europe,” he told European lawmakers.
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It was not immediately clear what steps the NATO nations might take to protect Finland and Sweden from Russian retaliation until they are formally placed under NATO’s umbrella of mutual defense, a process Western officials said was a process could be completed when the leaders of the alliance meet in Spain at the end of June.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday announced new measures to strengthen the security of Finland and Sweden, including greater information sharing and joint training.
NATO countries are increasing the flow of arms and other supplies to leaders in Kyiv to help Ukraine repel Russia’s brutal onslaught. At the same time, the United States and its allies have spearheaded efforts to impose punitive sanctions on Russia, pushing Moscow’s relations with the West to their worst post-Cold War point.
Putin has long viewed NATO’s eastward expansion – from its founding group of 12 nations in 1949, all from Western Europe and North America, to its 30 members today, including a group of former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact states – as a major threat to the called Russian Security.
“NATO expansion does not make our continent more stable and secure,” Peskov told journalists on Thursday, according to the Russian news agency Interfax. “NATO is moving in our direction,” he said.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry called the decision a “radical change” in Finland’s foreign policy and said it violated a non-aligned stance that the ministry said had served Moscow and Helsinki well.
Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council and former Russian President, said that NATO’s support to Ukraine, together with military exercises in the countries bordering Russia, “increases the likelihood of a direct and open conflict.”
“This type of conflict always runs the risk of turning into a full-fledged nuclear war,” Medvedev said.
The State Department said Russia was being “forced into retaliatory measures, both military-technical and otherwise.”
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Russia’s invasion has not only fueled Nordic nations’ support for NATO entry, but has also pushed countries in the former Soviet area closer to the West. Both Ukraine and Moldova are now actively seeking membership of the European Union.
According to Reuters, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg predicted that a Finnish accession process would be “smooth and quick”. “Finland is one of NATO’s closest partners, a mature democracy, a member of the European Union and an important contributor to Euro-Atlantic security,” he said.
The statement by Finnish leaders was greeted with expressions of support and promises to keep the application process as short as possible in European Union capitals and other NATO countries.
A historic step which, once taken, will make a major contribution to European security.
With Russia at war #Ukraine it is a strong signal of deterrence.
— Charles Michel (@eucopresident) May 12, 2022
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde on Thursday said her country should “take [the Finnish] Take assessments into account” when making your own decision about NATO membership. The Swedish tabloid Expressen, citing unnamed sources, reported that Sweden’s decision to join the defense alliance could be made as early as Monday.
After Finnish leaders expressed their support for an application for NATO membership, the Foreign and Security Policy Ministerial Committee will meet with the Finnish President to formally decide whether the country should submit an application, and then submit a proposal to the legislature. The committee is due to meet on Sunday, Agence France Press reported, citing Finnish newspaper Iltalehti.
The Defense Committee of the Finnish Parliament has already recommended joining NATO, while the major parliamentary parties have also indicated their support for a military alliance. Li Andersson, leader of the Left Alliance in the Finnish parliament, which has been plagued by internal disagreements over the prospect of NATO membership, wrote that she was ready to support it.
Jaclyn Peiser, Andrew Jeong, and Kim Bellware contributed to this report.