Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin officially endorsed the idea on Thursday that their country should join NATO, a historic move that will pave the way for a membership application in the coming days.
Until recently, Finnish leaders saw NATO membership as an unnecessary provocation from Moscow, but since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Niinistö and Marin have signaled a new openness to join the alliance and take advantage of the mutual defense clause. .
“Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay,” the two leaders said in a joint statement. “We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken quickly within a few days.”
Marin’s Social Democratic Party is expected to announce its position on Saturday, which is almost certainly beneficial for membership. Finland could then ask to join NATO early next week.
The country is moving towards membership in parallel with neighboring Sweden, a NATO compatriot who has also reconsidered its resistance since the invasion of Russia.
Swedish leaders are also expected to call for NATO membership in the coming days. The two countries could submit their bids together, perhaps as early as Monday, ahead of Niinistö’s state visit to Sweden on Tuesday.
Thursday’s announcement heralds a major shift in Finland’s defense policy.
After two wars against the Soviets between 1939 and 1944, Finland tried in the decades that followed to accommodate several of Moscow’s political demands – including not joining NATO – to avoid further conflict.
However, Finland took a decisive step towards the West when it joined the EU in 1995, four years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. NATO membership would mark the culmination of nearly three decades of Western political and economic integration for Finland since then.
Hours after Finland made clear that it would soon join NATO, Russia’s foreign ministry issued a belligerent statement declaring: “Russia will be forced to retaliate.” The rhetoric echoed Russia’s earlier threats to bring more weapons, including nuclear weapons, closer to Finland if it joined NATO.
Leaders in Helsinki have also said Moscow could launch cyber-attacks, breach Finnish airspace or engage in other forms of aggression in response to the country’s NATO bid.
Until now, however, experts have been surprised by the Kremlin’s lack of visible interference in Finnish affairs in recent weeks, as the NATO decision loomed, something they attributed to Russia’s focus on its failed war effort in Ukraine.
A decision by Stockholm and Helsinki to join NATO — effectively turning Russia’s 1,340-kilometer-long border with Finland into a new frontline between the East and the West — would be widely seen as a setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has often attempted to attack Ukraine as part of a wider battle for regional influence between his country and NATO.
On Wednesday, Finnish President Niinistö said at a press conference to announce closer military cooperation between Finland and the UK that Russian aggression had fundamentally changed the security picture in Europe.
“They are ready to attack a neighboring country,” he said of Russia. “So, if you ask how” [Russia sees] a possible Finnish entry into NATO… my answer would be: you caused this, look in the mirror.”
talking it out
Several intense days of political discussion will now follow in Finland and Sweden.
After the Finnish Social Democrats have announced their position on NATO, Marin and Niinistö will hold a decisive closing meeting and press conference on Sunday.
On the same day, Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats will announce whether they support an application to join the alliance. If they have an advantage, which seems likely, both Finland and Sweden can formally sign up from Monday.
Once the two final applications are sent, a ratification process by the 30 current NATO members would begin, which could take several months.
Several NATO leaders — including from nearby Denmark and Estonia — were quick on Thursday to reiterate their support for a Finnish entry.
“You can count on our full support,” said Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas. said† “We support a rapid accession process.”