Moscow said Finland’s accession, which would add hundreds of miles to NATO’s common border with Russia, would threaten its security. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peksov said Finland’s membership could require new measures from Russia to “balance the situation”.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who made their views known after weeks of internal consultations, said the militarily non-aligned nation should “apply for NATO membership without delay”.
“As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance,” they said in a statement. The decision, which must 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 has changed the security situation, not just for Finland. “The war started by Russia is endangering the security and stability of all of Europe,” he told European lawmakers.
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It was not immediately clear what steps NATO countries could take to protect Finland and Sweden from retaliation by Russia until they are formally brought under NATO’s mutual defense umbrella, a process that Western officials say could be complete. by the time the alliance’s leaders settled in Spain in late June.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new measures on Wednesday to strengthen the security of Finland and Sweden, including increased information sharing and joint training.
NATO countries are increasing the flow of arms and other aid to leaders in Kiev, in an accelerating effort to help Ukraine fend off Russia’s brutal attack. At the same time, the United States and its allies have led the way in imposing punitive sanctions on Russia, pushing Moscow’s relations with the West to the worst point since the Cold War.
Putin cites NATO’s expansion eastward—from its founding group of 12 countries in 1949, all from Western Europe and North America, to today’s 30 members, including some former Soviet and Warsaw Pact states—as a major threat for Russian security. †
“The expansion of NATO 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 characterized the decision as “a radical change” in Finland’s foreign policy, saying it ran counter to an unfettered stance that – the ministry says – has served Moscow and Helsinki well.
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council and a former Russian president, said NATO’s support for Ukraine, along with military exercises in countries bordering Russia, “increase the likelihood of direct and open conflict.”
“These kinds of conflicts always risk turning into a full-fledged nuclear war,” Medvedev said.
The foreign ministry said Russia would be “forced to retaliate, both military-technical and otherwise.”
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The Russian invasion has not only fueled Scandinavian support for NATO accession, but has also brought countries in the former Soviet sphere closer to the West. Both Ukraine and Moldova are now actively seeking membership of the European Union.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg predicted that a Finnish accession process would be “smooth and swift,” according to Reuters. “Finland is one of NATO’s closest partners, a mature democracy, a member of the European Union and a major contributor to Euro-Atlantic security,” he said.
In the capitals of the European Union and other NATO countries, the statement by Finnish leaders was greeted with statements of support and promises to keep the application process as short as possible.
A historic step that, once taken, will make a major contribution to European security.
Now that Russia is at war #Ukraine it is a strong signal of deterrence.
— Charles Michel (@eucopresident) May 12, 2022
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said on Thursday that her country must [the Finnish] evaluations” when making its own decision on NATO membership. Swedish tabloid Expressen reported that a decision by Sweden to join the defense alliance could come as soon as possible Monday, citing unnamed sources.
Now that Finland’s leaders have expressed support for a NATO membership bid, the Ministerial Committee on Foreign and Security Policy will meet with the Finnish president to formally decide whether the country should apply, then submit a proposal to lawmakers. The committee will meet on Sunday, Agence France Press reports, citing the Finnish newspaper Iltalehti.
The defense committee of the Finnish parliament has already recommended joining NATO, while the major parliamentary parties have also expressed support for a military alliance. Li Andersson, chairman 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.