Finland must apply for Nato membership without delay, say Finnish leaders in major policy shift

HELSINKI (REUTERS) – Finland’s President and Prime Minister said on Thursday (May 12) their country must apply to join the Nato military alliance “without delay”, a major policy shift triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Moscow said the move was “definitely” a threat and warned it was ready to respond. But Finland’s neighbour Sweden is also close to a decision on asking to join Nato after decades of following a neutral path.

Russia has partly tried to justify its invasion of Ukraine as a means to protect itself from NATO’s eastwards expansion.

However, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said Russian President Vladimir Putin was responsible for Helsinki’s decision.

“You caused this. Look at the mirror,” he said prior to Thursday’s announcement.

Finland, which shares a 1,300km border and a difficult past with Russia, has gradually stepped up its cooperation with Nato, or North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, as a partner since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

But until the Feb 24 invasion of Ukraine – which has seen thousands of people killed, cities razed, and forced millions to flee their homes – the Nordic country had refrained from joining Nato in order to maintain friendly relations with its eastern neighbour.

“Finland must apply for Nato membership without delay,” President Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said in a joint statement.

“We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days.”

The Finnish parliament will debate the announcement on Monday. A majority of lawmakers have already signalled their support for membership.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said any accession process would be “smooth and swift” and that Finland “would be warmly welcomed”.

Kremlin warning

After the announcement, Mr Niinisto spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who lauded Finland’s readiness to apply for Nato membership.

Russia, which had repeatedly warned both countries against joining the alliance, said on Thursday a Finnish entry into Nato was “definitely” a threat to it.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “Nato expansion does not make our continent more stable and secure.”

Everyone wanted to avoid a direct a clash between Nato and Russia but Moscow was prepared to make a “decisive response” to any side that tried to hinder Russia’s operation in Ukraine, he said.

Asked what form Russia’s response would take, he replied: “Everything will depend on how this (Nato) expansion process of Nato expansion plays out, the extent to which military infrastructure moves closer to our borders.”


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