Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin call for NATO membership ‘without delay’

Finland’s leaders say they are in favor of running quickly for NATO accession, paving the way for a historic expansion of the alliance that could deal a heavy blow to Russia as its military struggles with its war in Ukraine.

President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced the dramatic change on Thursday.

This means that Finland is almost certain to join NATO, although there are still a few steps left before the application process can begin.

Prime Minister of Finland Sanna Marin attends a signing ceremony at the official residence of Prime Minister of Japan Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, Japan, May 11, 2022. (AP)

Neighboring Sweden is due to decide on NATO membership in the coming days.

“NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance,” Niinisto and Marin said in a joint statement.

“Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay,” they said.

“We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken quickly in the coming days.”

Russia reacted to the development with a warning. The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that if Finland joined NATO, it would “inflict serious damage on Finnish-Russian relations as well as stability and security in northern Europe.”

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto makes a remark during a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, on Wednesday. (AP)

“Russia will be forced to take retaliatory measures of a military-technical and other nature to combat emerging threats to its national security,” the ministry said.

“History will determine why Finland needed to turn its territory into a bulwark of military confrontation with Russia while losing independence by making its own decisions.”

The ministry’s statement follows Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s comment on Thursday that Finland’s decision would not help stability and security in Europe. Peskov said Russia’s response would depend on NATO moves to expand its infrastructure closer to Russian borders.

Earlier, the Kremlin had warned of “military and political repercussions” if Sweden and Finland decide to join NATO.

If they do, there will be an interim period that runs from the submission of the request until all 30 NATO member parliaments have ratified it.

In NATO member Estonia, which also shares a border with Russia, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas tweeted “history is being made by our neighbors to the north”.

She promised to support Finland’s “rapid accession process” to NATO.

Finland’s announcement came a day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Finland and Sweden to sign a military cooperation agreement.

The UK pledged on Wednesday to help Sweden and Finland if the two Nordic nations are attacked.

During a joint press conference with Johnson and Niinisto in Helsinki, the Finnish head of state said Moscow could only blame itself if its nation of 5.5 million people became a member of NATO.

“You (Russia) caused this. Look in the mirror,” Niinisto said pointedly on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Niinisto tweeted that he spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy about Finland’s steadfast support for Ukraine and the country’s intention to join NATO. Niinisto said Zelenskyy “expressed his full support for this”.

In 2017, Sweden and Finland joined the British-led Joint Expeditionary Force, which is designed to be more flexible and respond faster than the larger NATO alliance.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin meet ahead of a meeting on NATO membership in Stockholm, Sweden, on April 13. (Photo: Paul Wennerholm) (AP)

It uses NATO standards and doctrine, so it can operate in conjunction with NATO, the United Nations or other multinational coalitions. Fully operational since 2018, the force has conducted several exercises independently and in cooperation with NATO.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 prompted Finland and Sweden to reconsider their historic tradition of military non-alignment and join the 30-member NATO.

After Moscow launched its attack on Ukraine, public support in both countries began to shift rapidly towards NATO membership, first in Finland and a little later in Sweden.

The latest opinion poll conducted by Finnish public broadcaster YLE earlier this week showed that 76% of Finns are in favor of NATO membership, a big change from previous years when only 20-30% of respondents were in favor of it. military alignment.

Speaking to European Union lawmakers on Thursday, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said that “the war initiated by Russia jeopardizes the security and stability of the whole of Europe”.

Haavisto said Russia’s unpredictable behavior was a serious concern for Finland, particularly Moscow’s readiness to carry out “high-risk operations” that could lead to many casualties, including among the Russians themselves.

If Finland becomes a member of NATO, it would mean the biggest shift in the Nordic country’s defense and security policy since World War II, when it fought two losing wars against the Soviet Union. Along with Sweden, Finland joined the European Union in 1995 and has the longest border with Russia of all the bloc’s 27 members.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde tweeted that Finland’s announcement gave an “important message” and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said there were “strong messages” from Finland’s president and prime minister.

During the Cold War, Finland stayed away from NATO to avoid provoking the Soviet Union, choosing to remain a neutral buffer between East and West, maintaining good relations with Moscow as well as the United States.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the military alliance will welcome Finland and Sweden – both with strong, modern militaries – with open arms and hopes the accession process will be swift and smooth.

NATO officials say the Nordic duo’s membership process could be completed “in a few weeks”.

The most time-consuming part of the procedure – the ratification of the country’s protocol by NATO’s 30 member states – could even be completed in less time than the four months or more it took West Germany, Turkey and Greece to enter the 1950s, when there were only 12 members to ratify their requests.

Ukrainian stronghold defenders continue to repel attacks

“These are not normal times,” a NATO official said this week, discussing possible applications from Finland and Sweden.

The official was briefing reporters on the accession process on the condition that he not be identified, as no requests had been made by the two countries.

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