Finland must apply to join Nato without delay, its president and prime minister have said, confirming a radical change in the Nordic country’s defence policy triggered by the Ukraine war after decades of military non-alignment.
Sauli Niinistö and Sanna Marin made the call in a joint statement, adding: “We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days.”
Marin said last month that Finland, which shares an 810-mile (1,300km) border with Russia, would be deciding whether to apply to join the US-led alliance “quite fast, in weeks not months”, despite the risk of infuriating Moscow.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused public support for Nato membership to treble in Finland, with the latest poll by the public broadcaster Yle showing 76% of Finns in favour compared with about 25% before the 24 February attack, with only 12% against.
Finland and neighbouring Sweden are officially non-aligned, but became Nato partners – taking part in exercises and exchanging intelligence – after abandoning their strict neutrality when they joined the EU in 1995 after the end of the cold war.
Finland declared independence in 1917 after more than a century of Russian rule, and its heavily outnumbered army twice fought off Soviet forces during the second world war before ceding some border territory.
Sweden, which is also expected to announce its decision on whether or not it will apply to join Nato this weekend, has not fought a war for 200 years.
While military non-alignment has long satisfied many Finns as a way of staying out of conflicts, Russia’s invasion of sovereign Ukraine has led an increasing number of Finns to view friendly relations with Russia as an empty phrase.
Ukraine’s fate has been particularly disturbing for Finland to watch as it fought two wars with Russia between 1939 and 1944, repelling an attempted invasion but losing about 10% of its territory in the subsequent peace agreement.
Finland‘s rapid shift towards Nato is likely to pull along neighbouring Sweden.