Finnish leaders call for NATO membership ‘without delay’

HELSINKI (AP) – Finnish leaders on Thursday expressed support for a speedy application for a NATO membership, paving the way for a historic expansion of the alliance that could deal a severe blow to Russia during its military struggle in Ukraine..

The announcement by President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin means that Finland’s commitment to a Western military alliance will be confirmed, but there are still some steps to be taken to begin the application process. Neighboring Sweden is expected to decide on NATO membership In the coming days.

“NATO members will strengthen Finland’s security. As a member of NATO, Finland will strengthen the entire Security Alliance, “said Ninesto and Marin in a joint statement.

“Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay,” they said. “We hope that the necessary national steps to take this decision will be taken expeditiously within the next few days.”

Russia responded with a warning to this development. Finland’s accession to NATO “will cause serious damage to Russian-Finnish relations and stability and security in Northern Europe,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“Russia will be forced to take retaliatory measures of military-technical and other characteristics to counter threats to its national security,” the ministry said.

“History will determine why Finland should turn its territory into a stronghold of military conflict with Russia, while losing its freedom to make its own decisions,” it added.

Before the ministry released its statement, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Finland’s decision would not help stability and security in Europe. Peskov said Russia’s response depended on NATO’s moves to expand infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders.

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Of the 27 members of the European Union, Finland has the longest border with Russia.

Earlier, the Kremlin had warned of “military and political consequences” if Sweden and Finland decided to join NATO. If they want to join the coalition, the interim will last from the time the applications are submitted until they are approved by lawmakers in the 30 existing member states.

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In Estonia, a NATO member bordering Russia, Prime Minister Gajah Gallus tweeted, “History is being made by our northern neighbors.” He promised to support the “rapid accession process” for Finland in NATO.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde tweeted that Finland’s announcement sent an “important message.”

The Finnish announcement comes a day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited both Finland and Sweden. To sign the Military Cooperation Agreement.

The UK on Wednesday pledged to help Sweden and Finland in the event of an attack by two Nordic countries.

During a joint news conference with Johnson in Helsinki this week, Ninisto said that Moscow could blame itself if its country of 5.5 million people was a member of NATO.

“You (Russia) are responsible for this. Look in the mirror, ”the Finnish president said on Wednesday.

Thursday, Ninisto tweeted He spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zhelensky about Finland’s firm support for Ukraine and the country’s intention to join NATO. Zelenskyy “expressed his full support for it,” Niinisto said.

In 2017, Sweden and Finland joined the British-led Joint Fleet, which is designed to be more flexible and quicker to respond than the larger NATO alliance. The force uses NATO standards and theory so it can work with alliances, the United Nations or other multinational alliances.

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The force, which has been fully operational since 2018, has conducted a number of exercises independently and in collaboration with NATO.

Russian occupation of Ukraine prompts Finland and Sweden to reconsider their military inconsistencies And think about joining NATO. After Russia’s occupation of Ukraine on February 24, public opinion in both countries began to shift in favor of members, first in Finland and later in Sweden.

A recent poll by the Finnish public broadcaster YLE showed that 76% of Finns earlier this week were in favor of joining NATO, with only 20-30% of respondents in previous years supporting such military restructuring.

When Niinisto and Marin made their announcement to EU lawmakers on Thursday, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said Russia’s unpredictable behavior was a serious concern for Finland. He cited Moscow’s readiness to carry out “high-risk operations” that could lead to many casualties, including the Russians.

If Finland were a NATO member, it would reflect the biggest change in Nordic security and defense policy since World War II, when it fought the Soviet Union.

During the Cold War, Finland withdrew from NATO to avoid provoking the Soviet Union, and instead sought to be a neutral buffer between the East and the West while maintaining good relations with Moscow and the United States.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said both Finland and Sweden have strong, modern armies – welcome with open arms and hoped the recruitment process would be quick and smooth.

NATO officials say the merger of the Nordic duo could take place “in two weeks”. In the four or more months that it took for West Germany, Turkey and Greece to unite in the 1950s, the practice would have taken much longer – the recognition of the country’s protocol by existing NATO members – was completed in less time. 12 members must confirm their applications.

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“These are not normal times,” a NATO official said this week, discussing possible uses for Finland and Sweden. The official told reporters about the joining process on the condition that he not be named as no application had been made by either country.

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Lorne Cook in Brussels and John M. in Copenhagen, Denmark. Olson contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s War Coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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