Russia’s neighbor Finland announces its entry into NATO

Russia’s neighbor Finland announces its entry into NATO

BERLIN (AP) – Finland on Sunday said it wants to join NATO as the head of the transatlantic military alliance has expressed hope that Ukraine – as Russia’s military advance appears to be faltering – can win the war.

President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced that Finland would seek NATO membership during a joint press conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki. The previously neutral Nordic country shares a long border with Russia.

“This is a historic day. A new era is beginning,” said Niinisto.

The Finnish parliament is expected to approve the decision in the coming days. A formal application for membership is then expected to be submitted to NATO headquarters in Brussels next week.

The announcement came as top diplomats from the 30 NATO member states gathered in Berlin to discuss further support for Ukraine and actions by Finland and Sweden and others to join NATO in the face of threats from Russia.

“Russia’s war in Ukraine is not going as Moscow planned,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on video while recovering from a COVID-19 infection. “They failed to take Kyiv. They withdraw from the Kharkiv area. Their major offensive in the Donbass has stalled. Russia is not achieving its strategic goals.”

“Ukraine can win this war,” he said, adding that NATO must further increase its military support to the country.

Sweden has also taken steps to join the alliance while Georgia’s bid is being discussed again, despite Moscow’s gloomy warnings about the consequences of its neighbor joining NATO.

Nordic NATO member Norway said it warmly welcomed Finland’s decision to apply for membership. Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt called Helsinki’s move “a turning point” for the Nordic region’s defense and security policies.

“Finnish membership in NATO will be good for Finland, good for the Nordic region and good for NATO. Finland has Norway’s full support,” Huitfeldt said in a comment emailed to The Associated Press.

Huitfeldt said the Norwegian government will facilitate “quick approval for ratification by the Norwegian parliament” for Finland’s NATO accession.

“We are now seeing unprecedented unity in NATO. With Finnish membership, we will further strengthen the Nordic flank of the military alliance,” said Huitfeldt.

Stoltenberg said he was confident that the accession process for Finland and Sweden in the existing member states could be accelerated. In the meantime, the alliance will increase its presence in the Baltics to ward off Russian threats, he said.

“All allies recognize the historic magnitude of the moment,” added Stoltenberg.

This assessment was shared by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.

“Sweden and Finland, if you are ready, we are ready,” she said.

Denmark’s foreign minister dismissed proposals and objections from Russian President Vladimir Putin could prevent the alliance from accepting new members.

“Every single European country has the fundamental right to choose its own security arrangements,” Jeppe Kofod told reporters.

“We now see a world where Putin and the thinking he represents is the number one enemy of democracy,” he said, adding that NATO also stands by other countries like Georgia, which he believes belong to Russia would be “instrumentalised”.

On the sidelines of the meeting, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba earlier Sunday to discuss the impact of the war and how to get Ukrainian grain to international markets.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Blinken “underscored the continued commitment of the United States to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s unprovoked war.”

Britain’s top diplomat said NATO members would also discuss security issues outside of Europe during their meeting on Sunday – a reference to growing unease among democratic nations over the rise of China.

“In addition to protecting Euro-Atlantic security, we must also pay attention to Indo-Pacific security,” said Secretary of State Liz Truss.

The meeting follows a meeting of foreign ministers from the group of seven leading economies on Germany’s Baltic coast this week. Officials there expressed strong support for Ukraine and warned that Russia’s blocking of grain exports from Ukrainian ports risks fueling a global food crisis.

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Jari Tanner reported from Helsinki. AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed from Berlin.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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