Finland will apply to join NATO, abandoning decades of neutrality despite Russian threats of retaliation

The decision was announced at a joint press conference on Sunday with President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who said the decision needed to be ratified by the country’s parliament. before Finland could formally apply for NATO membership.

“We hope parliament will confirm the decision to apply for NATO membership,” Marin told a news conference in Helsinki on Sunday. “Over the next few days. It will be based on a strong mandate, with the President of the Republic. We have been in close contact with the governments of NATO member states and with NATO itself.

“We are close partners in NATO, but it is a historic decision that we join NATO and I hope we will make the decisions together,” she added.

The move would take the US-led military alliance to Finland’s 830-mile border with Russia, but could take months to finalize as legislatures from the current 30 members must approve new nominees.

It also risks provoking the ire of Russia, whose President Vladimir Putin told his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinistö on Saturday that abandoning military neutrality and joining the bloc would be a “mistake”, according to a Kremlin statement. On Saturday, Russia cut off its electricity supply to the Nordic country over problems receiving payments.

Since the end of World War II, when Finland was invaded by the Soviet Union, the country has been militarily non-aligned and nominally neutral in order to avoid provoking Russia. He sometimes indulged in Kremlin security concerns and tried to maintain good trade relations.

The invasion of Ukraine changed this calculation.

On Saturday, Niinistö called for informing Putin of Finland’s intentions to join the bloc, saying that “Russia’s demands at the end of 2021 aimed at preventing countries from joining NATO and Russia’s massive invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has changed Finland’s security environment,” according to a statement from Finland’s president’s office.

Prime Minister Marin reiterated that sentiment on Sunday, telling reporters that when it comes to a nuclear threat, “we wouldn’t make these decisions that we’re making now, if we didn’t believe they would enhance our strength or our security.” . Of course, we believe these are the right decisions and they will strengthen our national security.”

Sweden has expressed similar frustrations and is also expected to make a similar move to join NATO.

Both countries already meet many criteria for NATO membership, which include a functioning democratic political system based on a market economy; treat minority populations fairly; commit to resolving conflicts peacefully; the ability and willingness to make a military contribution to NATO operations; and commit to democratic civil-military relations and institutions.

NATO member Turkey, which has presented itself as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, has expressed reservations about bringing Finland and Sweden into the alliance. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday he did not view Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership as “positive”, accusing the two countries of harboring Kurdish “terrorist organisations”.

Finnish President Niinistö said he was “confused” by Erdogan’s skepticism, saying that in a phone conversation with Erdogan a month ago, the Turkish president had sounded “supportive” of Finland joining the block.

“I thanked him and he was very happy to receive my fax, so you have to understand that I’m a bit confused,” he said.

“I think what we need now is a very clear answer. I am ready to have a further discussion with President Erdogan on the issues he has raised,” he added.

He conceded that any member of NATO could “block the process” and that it is therefore “important” to maintain “good contacts” with everyone, adding that Finland wants to keep its border peaceful. Russia.

Putin sees the alliance as a bulwark against Russia, despite the fact that the bloc spent much of the post-Soviet years focusing on issues such as terrorism and peacekeeping.

Before Putin invaded Ukraine, he made clear his belief that NATO had moved too close to Russia and should be brought back to its 1990s borders, before some of Russia’s neighboring countries or former states Soviets do not join the military alliance.

Ukraine’s desire to join the alliance and its status as a NATO partner – seen as a step on the way to eventual full membership – was one of many grievances cited by Putin in an attempt to justify the invasion of his country by his neighbour.

The irony is that the war in Ukraine has effectively given NATO a new purpose.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, public support for NATO membership in Finland has risen from around 30% to nearly 80% in some polls. Most Swedes also approve of their country joining the alliance, according to opinion polls.

Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s ambassador to the European Union, told Sky News on Thursday that if Finland joins the bloc, “it will require certain military technical measures like improving or increasing the degree of defense readiness on along the Finnish border”.

CNN’s Joshua Berlinger, Nic Robertson and Chris Liakos contributed to this article.

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