Finland will apply to join NATO, abandoning decades of neutrality despite Russia’s threats of retaliation

Finland will apply to join NATO, abandoning decades of neutrality despite Russia’s threats of retaliation

The decision was announced at a joint press conference on Sunday with President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who said the move would need to be ratified by the country’s parliament before Finland can formally apply for NATO membership.

“We hope that Parliament will confirm the decision to apply for NATO membership,” Marin said during a news conference in Helsinki on Sunday. “In the coming days. It will be based on a strong mandate from the President of the Republic. We have been in close contact with the governments of NATO member states and with NATO itself.”

“We are close partners with NATO, but it is a historic decision that we join NATO and hopefully we will make the decisions together,” she added.

The move would bring the US-led military alliance to Finland’s 830-mile border with Russia, but it could take months to complete as lawmakers from all 30 current members have to approve new applicants.

It also risks provoking the wrath of Russia, whose President Vladimir Putin told his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinistö on Saturday that abandoning military neutrality and joining the bloc was a “mistake”, according to a Kremlin statement. On Saturday, Russia cut off its power supply to the Nordic country after problems receiving payments.

Since the end of World War II, when Finland was invaded by the Soviet Union, the country has been militarily non-aligned and nominally neutral so as not to provoke Russia. It has at times given in to the Kremlin’s security concerns and tried to maintain good trade relations.

The invasion of Ukraine changed that calculation.

What you need to know about Finland, Sweden and NATO

On Saturday, Niinistö called to update Putin on Finland’s intentions to join the bloc, saying “Russia’s late-2021 demands aimed at preventing countries from joining NATO and Russia’s massive invasion of Ukraine.” in February 2022 have changed Finland’s security environment,” Niinistö said in a statement from the Finnish President’s Office.

Prime Minister Marin reiterated the sentiment on Sunday, telling reporters that, in relation to a nuclear threat, “we would not make these decisions that we are making now unless we felt that they would enhance our strength or security. Of course, we believe that these are the right decisions, and those decisions will enhance our national security.”

Sweden has expressed similar frustrations and is expected to take a similar step towards joining NATO.

Both countries already meet many of the criteria for NATO membership, including a functioning democratic political system based on a market economy; fair treatment of minorities; undertake to resolve conflicts peacefully; the ability and willingness to make a military contribution to NATO operations; and commitment to democratic civil-military relations and institutions.

NATO member Turkey, which has presented itself as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, has expressed reservations about integrating Finland and Sweden into the alliance. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday he was not “positive” about Finland and Sweden joining NATO, accusing both countries of harboring Kurdish “terrorist organizations”.

Finnish President Niinistö said he was “confused” by Erdogan’s skepticism and said that during a phone call with Erdogan a month ago, the Turkish president was “favorable” for Finland to join the bloc.

“I thanked him and he was very happy about my fax. So you have to understand that I’m a bit confused,” he said.

“I think what we need now is a very clear answer. I am ready to have a new discussion with President Erdogan on the issues he raised,” he added.

He acknowledged that any NATO member could “block the process” so it was “important” to maintain “good contacts” with everyone, adding that Finland wants to keep its border with Russia peaceful.

Putin views the alliance as a bulwark against Russia, although the bloc spent much of the post-Soviet years focusing on issues such as terrorism and peacekeeping.

Before invading Ukraine, Putin made clear his belief that NATO had gotten too close to Russia and should be restored to its 1990s borders, before some countries that were either Russia’s neighbors or were ex-Soviet states joined the military alliance .

Ukraine’s desire to join the alliance and its status as a NATO partner – seen as a step towards eventual full membership – was one of the numerous grievances that Putin cited to justify his country’s invasion of its neighbor .

The irony is that the war in Ukraine has effectively given NATO a new purpose.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, public support for Finland’s NATO entry has risen from around 30% to almost 80% in some polls. According to opinion polls there, most Swedes are also in favor of their country joining the alliance.

Vladimir Chizhov, Russian ambassador to the European Union, told Sky News on Thursday that if Finland joins the bloc, “this will require certain military-technical measures such as improving or increasing the level of defense preparations along the Finnish border.”

CNN’s Joshua Berlinger, Nic Robertson and Chris Liakos contributed to this piece.

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