Finland will apply to join NATO, abandoning decades of neutrality despite Russia’s threats of retaliation

The decision was announced at a joint press conference on Sunday with President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who said the move must be ratified by the country’s parliament. before Finland can officially apply for NATO membership.

“We hope that parliament will confirm the decision to apply for NATO membership,” Marin said during a press conference in Helsinki on Sunday. “In the coming days, it will be on the basis of a strong mandate with the President of the Republic. We have been in close contact with the governments of the member states of NATO and NATO itself,” he added.

“We are close partners of NATO, but it is a historic decision that we will join NATO and we hope to make decisions together,” she added.

The move would bring the US-led military coalition all the way to Finland’s 830-mile border with Russia, but could take months to complete as legislatures of all 30 current members must approve new applicants.

It also risks angering Russia, whose President Vladimir Putin told his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinistö on Saturday that abandoning military neutrality and joining the bloc would be a “mistake,” according to a Kremlin statement. On Saturday, Russia cut off electricity supplies to the Scandinavian country The following problems in receiving payments.

Since the end of World War II, during which the Soviet Union invaded Finland, the country has been militarily unaligned and nominally neutral in order to avoid provoking Russia. It has at times condoned the Kremlin’s security concerns and tried to maintain good business relations.

The invasion of Ukraine changed that calculus.

What you need to know about Finland, Sweden and NATO

He called Niinistö on Saturday to inform Putin of Finland’s intentions to join the bloc, saying that “Russian demands in late 2021 aimed at preventing countries from joining NATO and the massive Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 have changed the security environment for Finland,” according to a statement issued by the office. Finnish president.

Prime Minister Marin echoed the sentiment on Sunday, telling reporters that regarding the nuclear threat, “we will not take these decisions that we are making now, if we do not believe that they enhance our strength or our security. Of course we believe that these are the right decisions and these decisions will enhance our national security.”

Sweden has expressed similar frustrations and is also expected to make a similar move to join NATO.

Both countries already meet several criteria for NATO membership, which include having a functioning democratic political system based on a market economy; fair treatment of minorities; the obligation to resolve disputes by peaceful means; The ability and willingness to make a military contribution to NATO operations; Commitment to democratic civil-military relations and institutions.

NATO member Turkey, which has presented itself as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, has reservations about the integration of Finland and Sweden into the alliance. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that he did not view Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO “positively”, accusing both countries of harboring Kurdish “terrorist organizations”.

Finnish President Niinistö said he was “confused” by Erdogan’s suspicions, saying that during a phone conversation with Erdogan a month ago, the Turkish president appeared “in favor” of Finland joining the bloc.

He said, “I thanked him and he was very happy to receive my fax. So you have to understand that I am a bit confused.”

“I think what we need now is a very clear answer. I am ready to have a new discussion with President Erdogan about the problems he has raised,” he added.

He admitted that any NATO member could “obstruct the process” so it was “important” to maintain “good contacts” with everyone, adding that Finland wanted to keep its border with Russia peaceful.

Putin sees the alliance as a A fortress targeting Russiadespite the fact that the bloc has spent much of the post-Soviet years focusing on issues such as terrorism and peacekeeping.

Prior to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, he made clear his belief that NATO came too close to Russia and should be stripped of its borders in the 1990s, before some of Russia’s neighbors or former Soviet states joined the military alliance.

Ukraine’s desire to join the alliance, and its status as a NATO partner – seen as a step toward eventual full membership – was one of the many grievances Putin cited in an attempt to justify his country’s invasion of its neighbour.

The irony is that the war in Ukraine effectively gave NATO a new target.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, popular support for joining NATO in Finland has jumped from around 30% to nearly 80% in some opinion polls. Most Swedes also agree with their country joining the alliance, according to opinion polls there.

Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s ambassador to the European Union, told Sky News on Thursday that if Finland joined the bloc, “it would require certain military-technical measures such as improving or upgrading defensive preparations along the final border.”

CNN’s Joshua Berlinger, Nick Robertson, and Chris Liakos contributed to this piece.