Finnish leaders back NATO bid in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

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Finland’s leaders announced on Thursday that they would seek NATO membership for the Nordic nation as soon as possible – an extraordinary move demonstrating the far-reaching consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said in a statement after weeks of discussions over whether the traditionally non-aligned nation should join the defense alliance.

“The war started by Russia is endangering the security and stability of all of Europe,” Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told European lawmakers on Thursday. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has changed the European and Finnish security environment.” Niinisto and Marin said Finland’s membership in NATO would strengthen the entire defense alliance.

The Kremlin immediately hit back, saying Finland’s accession to NATO would “absolutely” threaten Russia’s security — as European leaders said they would welcome the new addition and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg predicted a smooth process if Helsinki submitted an application.

Russian President Vladimir Putin cited NATO expansionism as the reason for his invasion of Ukraine. Finland’s entry into the alliance would double its land border with Russia.

“NATO expansion does not make our continent more stable and secure,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov told reporters on Thursday, according to Russian news channel Interfax. Peskov said Russia could take new measures to “balance the situation” if Finland joins the alliance.

“NATO is moving in our direction,” he said.

A green light from Finland’s leaders is the first step towards a formal application, with the proposal also requiring approval from the country’s parliament. “We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken quickly in the coming days,” Niinisto and Marin said in a statement. Their announcement comes a day after Helsinki signed a mutual security agreement with London.

How Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine pushed Finland towards NATO

Stoltenberg said that if Finland applied to join NATO, the accession process would be “smooth and fast,” 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.”

Haavisto said Finland does not face an “immediate military threat”.

But after Finland’s announcement, Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council and a former Russian president, said that NATO’s support for Ukraine and the holding of military exercises in countries bordering Russia “raise the chance of a direct and open conflict between NATO and Russia.” †

“These kinds of conflicts always risk turning into a full-fledged nuclear war,” Medvedev said.

A top US intelligence official told senators on Tuesday that Russia could threaten more nuclear weapons exercises if Washington ignores its warnings not to interfere in Ukraine, but said she did not believe there was an imminent threat that Putin would use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. .

“Otherwise, we continue to believe that Putin would likely only allow the use of nuclear weapons if he saw an existential threat,” said Avril Haines, director of the national intelligence agency.

Putin prepared for ‘prolonged’ conflict, says US intelligence chief

The move by Finland’s leaders underscores how much Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to changes in Europe’s security posture, and comes a day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed defense agreements with Finland and Sweden, promising to come to their aid in the case of crisis or attack.

Niinisto said On Thursday, he informed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky of his support for Finland’s membership of NATO. Zelensky said he “praised” the step.

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

European Council President Charles Michel said Finland’s accession to NATO would “make a major contribution to European security”.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, Gabrielius Landsbergis, said “NATO is on the verge of getting stronger”, while the Baltic region is “on the verge of becoming more secure”.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said her country “will of course welcome Finland to NATO” and “make every effort to ensure a swift accession process after the formal application.”

NATO leaders have said Finland, which shares an 800-mile border with Russia, will be welcomed by the alliance if it decides to join. Neighboring Sweden is also moving closer to NATO over the war in Ukraine, and the Swedish tabloid Expressen reported that a decision by Sweden to join the defense alliance could come as soon as possible, citing unnamed sources.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said her country should [the Finnish] evaluations” when making a decision on NATO membership.

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

The defense committee of the Finnish parliament has already recommended joining NATO, while the major parliamentary parties have also expressed support for a military alliance. Public support for NATO accession is also strong in Finland and has increased since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Several Finnish lawmakers and officials expressed support for the Finnish leaders’ position on Thursday. Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen said “NATO membership significantly raises the threshold for Finland to fall victim to a military attack.”

Li Andersson, chairman 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 ready to support it.

“I am ready to accept Finnish NATO membership because it is the will of the Finnish people and the clear majority of the Finnish parliament,” Andersson said.

Jaclyn Peiser and Andrew Jeong contributed to this report.

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