May 16, 2022

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Finnish leaders said Finland should apply for NATO membership "without delay"

Finnish leaders said Finland should apply for NATO membership “without delay”

  • Finland and Sweden advance in the “coming days” – sources
  • Membership is expected to happen quickly
  • Finnish public opinion upset the Ukraine war
  • The Baltics welcome the announcement

HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Thursday that Finland should apply to join the NATO military alliance “without delay”, in a major policy shift brought about by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Finland, which shares a 1,300 km (810 mi) border with Russia a difficult past, has gradually strengthened its cooperation with NATO as a partner since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

But until the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Scandinavian country refrained from joining in order to maintain friendly relations with its eastern neighbor. Read more

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“Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay,” Niinist√∂ and Marin said in a joint statement.

“We hope that the national steps that are still necessary to take this decision will be taken quickly within the next few days,” he added.

Five diplomats and officials told Reuters before the Finnish announcement that NATO allies expect Finland and Sweden to apply to join the alliance in the coming days, and membership will be granted quickly. Read more

The Baltic states, formerly ruled by Moscow and now members of NATO, welcomed Finland’s declaration.

“Finland has decided to join the alliance. NATO is about to get stronger. The Baltic is about to get safer,” said Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis.

The view among Finns about NATO has changed rapidly since Russia launched what it called a “special operation” in Ukraine.

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Finnish public support for joining NATO has risen to record levels in recent months, with a poll by public broadcaster YLE showing 76% of Finns in favor and only 12% against, while support for membership used to stay at only about 25% for the years before the war in Ukraine. .

While military non-alignment has long satisfied many Finns as a means of staying out of conflicts, the Russian invasion of sovereign Ukraine has prompted an increasing number of Finns to view friendly relations with Russia as an empty phrase.

The fate of Ukraine was particularly disturbing for Finland to watch as it fought two wars with Russia between 1939 and 1944, repelling an invasion attempt but losing about 10% of its territory in the subsequent peace agreement.

Finland’s rapid turn to NATO is likely to go along with neighboring Sweden.

Sweden’s ruling Social Democratic Party is expected to decide on Sunday whether to reject decades of opposition to NATO membership, a move that would almost certainly lead to Sweden also being asked to join the 30-nation alliance. Read more

Russia has repeatedly warned both countries against joining the alliance. Most recently, on March 12, the State Department said “there will be serious military and political consequences” if this happens.

The speed of the Finnish decision to advance came as a surprise to many, as most political discussions took place behind the scenes out of fear of a Russian reaction.

In March the Finnish government began a review of the security policy and submitted a report to Parliament for discussion in April, while also holding discussions with all parliamentary groups to secure support for the decision to join the treaty.

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In parallel with the domestic process, Finland’s president and prime minister toured NATO countries to win their support for Finland’s membership.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had said earlier that it would be possible to allow Finland and Sweden to join “very quickly”.

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Additional reporting by Anne Curanen and Essie Leto, writing by Anne Curanen and Gladys Fuchs, editing by Justina Pollack and Angus McSwan

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.