Finland’s president confirms his country will apply to join NATO


Finland has officially confirmed its intention to join NATO, abandoning decades of military non-alignment in a historic decision sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Finland is a candidate for NATO membership,” the country’s president, Sauli Niinistö, told a press conference. “A protected Finland is emerging as part of a stable, strong and responsible Nordic region. We gain security and we also share it. It’s good to keep in mind that security is not a zero-sum game.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin said the proposal would now be sent to parliament for ratification. “Our decision is historic,” she said. “As a member of NATO, we will also be responsible for the security of the alliance as a whole.”

Neighboring Sweden’s ruling party is also holding a landmark meeting on whether to join the 30-member defensive alliance next week as Moscow’s attack on Ukraine is set to usher in NATO expansion that the Russian president Vladimir Putin claimed he wanted to prevent.

Finland shares a 1,300km border with Russia and, like Sweden, has maintained strict policies of neutrality and then non-alignment since the end of World War II, viewing NATO membership as a provocation from Moscow.

However, Mr Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 caused a sea change in his thinking, with public support for NATO membership tripling to around 75%. Polls show that a majority of 50-60% is also in favor in Sweden.

Three days after Finland’s leaders said it “must apply for NATO membership without delay”, the membership proposal is expected to be tabled in parliament for ratification on Monday.

Mr Niinistö called his Russian counterpart, Mr Putin, on Saturday and informed him that his country wanted to join NATO, in a conversation he described as “direct and direct”. He added: “Avoiding tensions was seen as important.”

Russia has repeatedly warned Finland and Sweden against joining NATO, saying such a move would force it to ‘restore the military balance’ by strengthening its defenses in the sea region. Baltic, including by deploying nuclear weapons.

Mr Putin responded to Mr Niinistö’s call by saying joining NATO “would be a mistake, because there is no threat to the security of Finland”, according to a reading of the appeal published by the Kremlin.

After an all-party Swedish parliamentary review on Friday said NATO membership would strengthen Sweden’s national security and help stabilize the Nordic region, leaders of the country’s ruling Social Democrats were also set to shake off the party’s longstanding opposition to NATO membership on Sunday.

Sweden

With a decision expected by early evening, Swedish media reported that – assuming Helsinki sends in its application on Monday – Stockholm is expected to follow suit as early as Tuesday, with the alliance ready to start the membership process immediately afterwards.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the two countries would be “welcomed with open arms” and the process of joining would be swift, although formal approval by all alliance members could take several months.

However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan voiced his opposition to the move, based on what he described as the countries’ accommodative attitude towards the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is on the list EU terrorist organisations.

NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana said on Sunday he was confident that Turkey’s concerns about Finland and Sweden joining the alliance could be resolved. “I am convinced that if these countries decide to apply for NATO membership, we will be able to welcome them to find all the conditions for a consensus to be reached,” he said.

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto also said he was “confident” of reaching an agreement with Turkey. – Guardian

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