Finland’s leaders said Thursday they’re in favor of rapidly applying for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The move would pave the way for a historic expansion of the military alliance. It could also deal a serious blow to Russia as its military struggles with its war in Ukraine.
The announcement by President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin means that Finland is all but certain to join the Western alliance, though a few steps remain before the process can begin. Neighboring Sweden is expected to decide on seeking NATO membership in coming days.
Finland, like Ukraine, shares a border with Russia. In fact, it has the longest border with Russia of all the European Union’s 27 members. NATO member nations agree to aid in one another’s defense if needed.
Niinisto and Marin said in a joint statement that NATO membership would be a win-win for everyone. “NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance.”
They also expressed urgency. “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.”
Russia reacted to the development with a warning. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Finland joining NATO would “inflict serious damage to Russian-Finnish relations as well as stability and security in Northern Europe. . . . Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps . . . in order to counter the emerging threats to its national security.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says Russia’s response would depend on NATO’s moves to expand its infrastructure closer to Russian borders.
In NATO member Estonia, which also borders Russia, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas pledged to support “a rapid accession process” for Finland into NATO.
Finland’s announcement came a day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited both Finland and Sweden to sign a military cooperation agreement. The UK pledged Wednesday to come to the aid of Sweden and Finland if the two Nordic nations came under attack.
Both Sweden and Finland have belonged since 2017 to the British-led Joint Expeditionary Force. The force is designed to be flexible so that it can respond more quickly than the larger NATO alliance. It uses NATO standards to operate in conjunction with the alliance, the United Nations, and other coalitions.
In light of Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine and, in particular, the accusations of war crimes against Russian soldiers in that movement, Finland and Sweden chose to reconsider their traditions of neutrality. Public opinion in the two countries quickly started to shift toward favoring membership, first in Finland and a bit later in Sweden, after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. The first war-crimes trial of a Russian soldier in the conflict was set to open in Kyiv today.
“You (Russia) caused this. Look in the mirror,” Finnish President Niinisto said earlier this week.
(British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, and Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto hake hands after signing a security assurance on May 11, 2022, in Helsinki, Finland. AP/Frank Augstein)