Finland has signalled it is ready to join NATO, with President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin announcing yesterday that the country must apply for membership “without delay”. The move comes amid a surge of public support for NATO membership following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In a joint statement released on Thursday, May 13, the leaders added: “We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days.”
They said that membership of NATO would “strengthen Finland’s security” and, as a member of the military alliance, “Finland would strengthen the entire defence alliance.”
The leaders added: “Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay.”
The Nordic country is expected to announce its decision on Sunday after it has been considered by parliament and other senior political figures.
Finland, which shares a 180-mile border with Russia, has until now stayed out of NATO to avoid antagonising Russia.
Following the announcement, Russia’s foreign ministry said: “Finland’s accession to NATO will cause serious damage to bilateral Russian-Finnish relations and the maintaining of stability and security in the Northern European region.”
It continued: “Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps, both of a military-technical and other nature, in order to neutralise the threats to its national security that arise from this.”
Moscow did not specify what “steps” it plans to take, but it comes at a time of repeated threats of war escalation by Vladimir Putin.
The foreign ministry accused NATO of seeking to create “another flank for the military threat to our country” and said Helsinki should “be aware of its responsibility and the consequences of such a move”.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia would “definitely” see Finnish membership as a threat.
Peskov said: “The expansion of NATO and the approach of the alliance to our borders does not make the world and our continent more stable and secure.
“Everything will depend on how this process takes place, how far the military infrastructure moves towards our borders.”
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Peskov said: “Finland joined the unfriendly steps taken by the European Union towards our country. This cannot fail to arouse our regret, and is a reason for corresponding symmetrical responses on our side.”
When asked on Wednesday if Finland would provoke Russia by joining NATO, Mr Niinisto said: “My response would be that you caused this. Look at the mirror.”
READ MORE: NATO allies: Finland to join alliance ‘without delay’ – full statement
Sweden is expected to follow suit and overturn its longstanding opposition to NATO membership.
Sweden’s foreign minister, Ann Linde, said Finland’s statement was “an important message”, adding that it is “Sweden’s closest security and defence partner” and its assessments “must be taken into account”.
Sweden is also expected to announce its decision in the coming days.
The accession of the Nordic nations to NATO would mark an historic shift in the two country’s security policies and bring the expansion of the Western military alliance President Putin has long aimed to prevent.
Russia’s UN deputy representative Dmitry Polyansky said Sweden and Finland would become possible targets for Russia if they join NATO, according to Russian news agency Ria.
Russia has repeatedly warned both nations against joining the US-led alliance, saying the move would bring “serious military and political consequences” which would oblige Moscow to “restore the military balance” by strengthening its defences in the Baltic Sea region.
Speaking on Thursday, NATO’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said Finland would be “warmly welcomed” into the alliance.
Mr Stoltenberg promised the accession process would be “smooth and swift”, although ratification by all 30 members could take several months.
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The White House also backed the move, with press secretary Jen Psaki saying the US “would support a NATO application by Finland and-or Sweden should they apply”.
Support for NATO membership has surged since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
An opinion poll last week put support for Finland joining the alliance at 76 percent, with just 12 percent against.
Its accession would more than double the length of Russia’s borders with NATO countries.
Finland is expected to make a formal decision on submitting its membership application on Sunday.
If a positive decision is reached it would then be presented to the parliament for approval early next week.
Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats are expected to decide on whether to apply to join the alliance on Sunday.