Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced their support on Thursday for immediately applying to join NATO, a major reversal of the nation’s military stance brought on by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Adding the Nordic nation to the ranks of the 72-year-old military alliance would more than double its borders with Russia, dealing a major to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who maintains NATO already poses too much of a threat.
“During this spring, an important discussion on Finland’s possible NATO membership has taken place,” Niinistö and Marin said in a joint statement.
“NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance,” they said. “Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay. We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days.”
Moscow warned against any NATO expansion on its border and said Finland’s accession would “definitely” pose a that would lead to “military-technical” retaliatory measures. NATO, based on the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, now has 28 European member nations along with Canada and the United States.
Finland’s neighbor, Sweden, also is expected to decide whether to pursue NATO membership by the end of the week. Sweden does not have a border with Russia, but the two share the Baltic Sea region.
A day earlier, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Finland and Sweden to sign a military cooperation agreement and the United Kingdom pledged to help both countries if they were attacked.
Five years ago the two countries joined the British-led Joint Expeditionary Force began participating in its military exercises, some of which also included NATO.
The Kremlin will have to take tit-for-tat steps of military-technical nature to stop threats to its national security in response to Finland’s possible accession to NATO, according to a report from Russian state-run news agency TASS based on a statement from Russia’s foreign ministry.
“Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps both of military-technical and of other nature in order to stop the threats to its national security that emerge as a result,” it said, citing the foreign ministry. “We will react depending on the situation.”
— TPKanslia (@TPKanslia) May 12, 2022
NATO’s ‘open door policy’
Finland adhered to a strict policy of Cold War neutrality between World War II and the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, but joined the European Union in 1995 while trying to maintain a non-antagonistic military stance toward Russia.
Finland and Russia share a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border, which has led to renewed debate in Finland over how best to ensure its security in light of the Ukraine war since late February.
There was no immediate response from NATO, which plans to hold an informal meeting among foreign ministers in Berlin over the weekend.
NATO’s Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană emphasized in Washington on Tuesday, however, that NATO’s “open door policy” and the European Union’s expansion helped spread “freedom, democracy and human rights” across Central and Eastern Europe.
That policy is based on Article 10 of its treaty, which says membership is open to any “European state in a position to further the principles of this treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area.” Any decision to expand requires unanimous approval.
Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said the announcement by Finland’s leaders amounts to “history being made by our northern neighbors” and her nation would back the application for NATO membership.
“You can count on our full support,” said Kallas. “We support a rapid accession process. From our side will make necessary steps quickly.”