Finland formally confirms intention to join Nato
Finland has formally confirmed it intends to join Nato, abandoning decades of military non-alignment in a historic policy shift triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The president and the government’s foreign policy committee have agreed that after consulting parliament, Finland will apply for Nato membership,” president, Sauli Niinistö, told a press conference. “A protected Finland is being born as part of a stable, strong and responsible Nordic region.”
He hailed the decision as “a historic day” for the Nordic country, adding: “A new era is opening. A lot has happened since the day Russia invaded Ukraine. We gain security, and we also share it. It’s good to keep in mind that security isn’t a zero-sum game.”
Finland’s prime minister, Sanna Marin, said the proposal would be sent to parliament on Monday for ratification. “We hope parliament will confirm the decision in the coming days. It will be based on a strong mandate,” she said.
Marin added that as a member of Nato, Finland would help reinforce not just the 30-member, US-led defensive alliance but also “strengthen the EU, whose voice in Nato can become stronger.” The two Finnish leaders had said on Friday the country must “must apply for Nato membership without delay”.
With neighbouring Sweden’s ruling party also holding a decisive meeting on Sunday on whether to back a Swedish application for membership, Moscow’s onslaught on Ukraine looks set to usher in the expansion of Nato that Vladimir Putin claimed he wanted to prevent.
Finland shares an 810-mile (1,300km) border with Russia and, like Sweden, has maintained strict policies of neutrality then non-alignment since the end of the second world war, viewing Nato membership as a provocation of Moscow.
However, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February has led to a profound change in its thinking, with public support for Nato accession trebling to about 75%. Polls show a majority of between 50 and 60% are also in favour in Sweden.
Niinistö called his Russian counterpart, Putin, on Saturday and informed him his country aimed to join Nato, in a conversation he described as “direct and straightforward”. He added: “Avoiding tensions was considered important.”
Niinistö said on Sunday he did not believe Russia would respond to the move with military force, but added: “It’s always worth remembering that total vigilance is in place.”
Russia has repeatedly warned Finland and Sweden against joining Nato, saying such a move would oblige it to “restore military balance” by strengthening its defences in the Baltic Sea region, including by deploying nuclear weapons.
Putin reportedly responded to Niinistö’s call by saying Nato membership “would be a mistake, since there is no threat to Finland’s security”, according to a readout of the call released by the Kremlin.
After a cross-party Swedish parliamentary review on Friday said joining Nato would boost Sweden’s national security and help stabilise the Nordic region, leaders of the country’s ruling Social Democrats were also poised on Sunday to jettison the party’s longstanding opposition to Nato membership.
With a decision expected in the early evening, Swedish media reported that – assuming Helsinki sends its application in on Monday – Stockholm is likely to follow suit as early as Tuesday, with the alliance set to launch the accession process immediately afterwards.
Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, has said both countries would be “welcomed with open arms” and that the accession process would be quick, though formal approval by all the alliance’s members could take several months.
However, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has expressed his opposition to the move, based on what he said was the countries’ accommodating attitude towards the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), which is on the EU’s list of terrorist organisations.
Nato’s deputy secretary general, Mircea Geoană, said on Sunday he was confident Turkey’s concerns over Finland and Sweden joining the alliance could be addressed. “I am confident if these countries decide to seek membership in Nato we will be able to welcome them to find all conditions for consensus to be met,” he said.
Finland’s foreign minister, Pekka Haavisto, also said he was “confident” of reaching an agreement with Turkey.