Finland’s leaders demand NATO membership ‘without delay’

Helsinki (AFP) – Finland’s leaders said Thursday they support rapid progress in NATO membership, paving the way for a historic expansion of the alliance that could deal a serious blow to Russia as its military struggles. war in ukraine.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced the dramatic move. This means that Finland will almost certainly join NATO, although there are still a few steps before the application process begins. Neighboring Sweden is He is expected to decide to join NATO in the coming days.

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

“Finland should apply for NATO membership without delay,” they said. “We hope that the national steps that are still necessary to make this decision can be taken quickly within the next few days.”

Russia responded to the development with a warning. In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said that if Finland joined NATO, it would “bring serious damage to Russian-Finnish relations, as well as stability and security in Northern Europe.”

“Russia will have to take retaliatory steps with military-technical and other characteristics in order to confront emerging threats to its national security,” the ministry said.

“History will determine why Finland needs to turn its territory into a bulwark from military confrontation with Russia while losing independence in making its own decisions,” she added.

The ministry’s statement comes on the heels of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s comment earlier on Thursday that Finland’s decision will not help stability and security in Europe. Peskov said Russia’s response would depend on NATO’s moves to expand its infrastructure near the Russian border.

Previously, the Kremlin had warned of “military and political repercussions” if Sweden and Finland decided to join NATO. If they apply, there will be a transition period from the date the application is submitted until it is ratified by all 30 parliaments of NATO members.

In NATO member Estonia, which also borders Russia, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas tweeted: “History is made by our northern neighbors.” She pledged support for Finland’s “rapid accession process” to NATO.

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

On Wednesday, the United Kingdom pledged aid to Sweden and Finland if the two Scandinavian countries were attacked.

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

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

Thursday, Niinistö tweeted He spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about Finland’s steadfast support for Ukraine and the country’s intention to join NATO. Niinistö said that Zelensky “expressed his full support”.

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. It uses NATO standards and doctrine, so it can work alongside NATO, the United Nations or other multinational alliances. The force has been fully operational since 2018, and has conducted a number of exercises independently and in cooperation with NATO.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 prompted Finland and Sweden to reconsider their historical traditions of military non-alignment and accession to NATO’s 30th membership. After Moscow launched its attack on Ukraine, public support in both countries began to shift rapidly toward membership in NATO, first in Finland and a little later in Sweden.

The latest poll conducted by Finnish public broadcaster YLE earlier this week showed that 76% of Finns support joining NATO, a significant change from previous years when only 20-30% of respondents favored such a military alignment.

Speaking to EU lawmakers on Thursday with Niinistö and Marin’s announcement, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said that “the war started by Russia threatens the security and stability of all of Europe.”

Haavisto said that Russia’s unexpected behavior is a serious concern for Finland, in particular Moscow’s willingness to launch “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 change in the Nordic defense and security policy since World War II when it fought two losing wars against the Soviet Union. Besides 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 Anne 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 moved away from NATO to avoid provoking the Soviet Union, instead choosing to remain a neutral buffer between East and West while maintaining good relations with Moscow as well as with the United States.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the military alliance would welcome Finland and Sweden – both with strong, modern military – with open arms and expected the accession process to be fast and smooth.

NATO officials say the Scandinavian duo’s accession process could take place “within two weeks”. The most time-consuming part of the procedure – the ratification of the country’s protocol by 30 NATO member states – could be completed in less than the four months or so that West Germany, Turkey and Greece to join in the 1950s had only 12 members to ratify their applications.

“These are not normal times,” a NATO official said this week, discussing potential applications for Finland and Sweden. The official was briefing journalists on the accession process, on condition of anonymity because the two countries did not submit any application.


Lorne Cook in Brussels, and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.


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