Frank Augstein / AP:
HELSINKI – The Finnish president and prime minister said on Thursday they were in favor of applying for NATO membership, paving the way for the alliance to expand amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The dramatic move by Finland was announced by President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin in a joint statement. This means that Finland is practically firmly aspiring to join NATO, that there are only a few steps left before the application process begins. Neighboring Sweden is expected to decide on NATO membership in the coming days.
Finland has a land border of 1340 km (830 miles) with Russia. The Kremlin has warned of “military-political consequences” if Sweden and Finland decide to join NATO. If they do apply, there will be an interim period from the time the application is submitted until all 30 NATO parliaments have ratified it.
“Now that the time has come to make a decision, we express our equal views to inform the parliamentary groups and the parties,” said a joint statement by Ninisto and Marini. “NATO membership will strengthen Finland’s security.”
“As a NATO member, Finland will strengthen its entire defense alliance,” they said. “Finland must apply for NATO membership immediately. “We hope that the necessary national steps to make this decision will be taken quickly in the next few days.”
The announcement came a day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Finland and Sweden to sign a military co-operation agreement.
On Wednesday, Britain promised to help Sweden and Finland if the two Scandinavian countries were attacked.
In 2017, Sweden and Finland joined the UK-led Joint Expedition, which is designed to be more flexible and responsive than the larger NATO alliance. It uses NATO standards and doctrine, so it can work together with NATO, the UN or other multinational coalitions. Since its full operation in 2018, the forces have conducted a number of military exercises both independently and in cooperation with NATO.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Finland and Sweden have been considering abandoning their decades-old neutrality and joining 30 NATO members.
If Finland becomes a member of NATO, it will mean the biggest change in the Nordic country’s defense and security policy since World War II, when it waged two defeated wars against the Soviet Union.
During the Cold War, Finland stayed away from NATO to avoid provocations by the Soviet Union, but instead chose to remain a neutral buffer between the East and the West, maintaining good relations with Moscow and the United States.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said that the military alliance will welcome Finland and Sweden, both of which have strong, modern armies, and expects the membership process to proceed smoothly.
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