Finland’s leaders back NATO membership in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

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Finland must seek immediate NATO membership, the Nordic nation’s leaders said on Thursday, moving to end seven decades outside the Western military bloc in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Finland’s entry would add significant fighting power to the alliance while deepening the East-West divisions that have consumed Europe since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24. Neighboring Sweden is expected to announce its own NATO bid soon.

Moscow said Finland’s accession, which would add hundreds of miles to NATO’s shared border with Russia, would threaten its security. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peksov said the Finnish membership may require further action by Russia to “balance the situation”.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced their positions after weeks of internal deliberations, saying the militarily non-aligned nation must “apply for NATO membership without delay.”

“As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance,” they said in a statement. The decision, which must be approved by the Finnish parliament, is expected to be finalized in the coming days.

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said that President Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine had altered the security situation not only for Finland. “The war launched by Russia endangers the security and stability of the whole of Europe,” he told European lawmakers.

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It was not immediately clear what steps NATO nations might take to protect Finland and Sweden from any Russian retaliation until they are formally brought under NATO’s mutual defense umbrella, a process Western officials say could be completed by when the alliance leaders meet. Spain at the end of June.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new measures on Wednesday to bolster the security of Finland and Sweden, including increased intelligence sharing and joint training.

NATO nations are increasing the flow of weapons and other aid to leaders in kyiv in an accelerated effort to help Ukraine fend off Russia’s brutal attack. At the same time, the United States and its allies have led the effort to impose punitive sanctions on Russia, bringing Moscow’s relations with the West to their worst since the Cold War.

Putin has long mentioned NATO’s eastward expansion, from its founding group of 12 nations in 1949, all from Western Europe and North America, to its 30 members today, including a handful of ex-Soviet and North American states. Warsaw Pact, as a great threat to Russian security. .

“NATO expansion does not make our continent more stable and secure,” Peskov told reporters on Thursday, according to the Russian media outlet Interfax. “NATO is moving in our direction,” he said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry characterized the decision as “a sea change” in Finland’s foreign policy, saying it contravened a non-alignment stance that the ministry said has benefited Moscow and Helsinki.

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council and former Russian president, said NATO’s support for Ukraine, along with military exercises in countries bordering Russia, “increase the likelihood of a direct and open conflict.”

“This kind of conflict always runs the risk of turning into a full-fledged nuclear war,” Medvedev said.

The Foreign Ministry said Russia would be “forced to take retaliatory measures, both of a military-technical and other nature.”

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In addition to boosting support from Nordic nations to join NATO, Russia’s invasion has also brought countries from the former Soviet sphere closer to the West. Both Ukraine and Moldova are now actively seeking membership in the European Union.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg predicted that Finland’s accession process “would be smooth and quick,” according to Reuters. “Finland is one of NATO’s closest partners, a mature democracy, a member of the European Union and a major contributor to Euro-Atlantic security,” he said.

In the capitals of the European Union and other NATO countries, the Finnish leaders’ statement was greeted with expressions of support and promises to keep the application process as short as possible.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said Thursday that her country should “take [the Finnish] take assessments into account” when making your own decision about joining NATO. Swedish tabloid Expressen reported that Sweden’s decision on joining the defense alliance could come as soon as Monday, citing unnamed sources.

Now that Finnish leaders have expressed their support for the NATO membership bid, the Ministerial Committee on Foreign and Security Policy will meet with the President of Finland to formally decide whether the country should apply and then submit a proposal. to legislators. The committee will meet on Sunday, Agence France Press reported, citing the Finnish newspaper Iltalehti.

The Finnish parliament’s defense committee has already recommended joining NATO, while the main parliamentary parties have also expressed support for a military alliance. Li Andersson, chairwoman of the Left Alliance in the Finnish Parliament, which has been plagued by internal disagreements over the prospect of NATO membership, wrote that she was prepared to support it.

Jaclyn Peiser, Andrew Jeong, and Kim Bellware contributed to this report.

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