Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is causing a rapidly growing number of Finns to support membership of NATO, suggesting the country’s delicate balancing act between the Kremlin and the US-led military alliance could be coming to an end. Many Finns have traditionally been wary of Russia, with which their Nordic country shares a 1,340 km (833 miles) border and a history of two wars between 1939 and 1944 which cost Finland substantial territory. But for years public backing for joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation lingered at only about 20 percent, although it briefly edged up in 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
In the wake of Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, Finnish diffidence towards the alliance appears to be dissolving.
BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson told Radio 4’s Today programme: “Since the end of the second World War this has been an entirely peaceful border and Finland has been happy to be neutral.
“But ever since the invasion of Ukraine and the heavy-handed Russian warnings to Finland to not even think about joining NATO, opinion in this country has been shifting quite fast.
“There’s now a sizeable majority in favour of joining NATO simply out of self-protection.”
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Mirja Uosukainen, a health professional, told Reuters at a protest outside the Russian embassy in Helsinki: “Unfortunately these events have shown that we cannot be lulled into thinking the world is a good place and that we do not have to be afraid.”
Uosukainen didn’t previously see a need for a defence alliance, but now said she had begun to think her country should quickly consider joining the NATO.
Finnish willingness to join NATO has soared in just a month.
A poll by public broadcaster Yle last Monday had 53 percent of Finns in favour of joining, when the corresponding figure in a poll by Helsingin Sanomat newspaper was 28 percent in late January.
“This has happened across the political spectrum and the change is seismic,” Aaltola told Reuters.
Seeking to calm the haste to join, the government has said possible NATO membership should be debated in parliament before any conclusions can be drawn.
“Our current position is that the non-alignment and very close cooperation with Nato has been serving us well and then we should after the crisis look at what our judgement is,” Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told Reuters.
President Sauli Niinisto, who will meet President Joe Biden in Washington on Friday, said he understood ordinary Finns’ urge for rapid changes, but called for careful consideration.
“In the midst of an acute crisis it is however particularly import to keep a cool head and assess carefully the impact of the changes that have already taken place and of those that might still happen,” Niinisto said in a statement.