NATO chief says Finland welcomes joining allies

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday that the 30-member US-led alliance would “warmly welcome” Finland if the Scandinavian country applied for membership in light of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said Thursday that the country, which shares a 1,300-kilometre border with Russia, will soon clarify next steps on the possibility of it applying for NATO membership.

Local media showed that Finland’s support for NATO membership hit a record high after Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking to CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Friday, NATO’s Stoltenberg said Finland’s move to consider joining the NATO military alliance was a “direct result” of Russia’s invasion of its neighbor on February 24.

“The message from NATO and me is that the decision is up to Finland,” Stoltenberg said.

“We will respect the decision regardless of the outcome, but if Finland decides to apply for membership, I am confident that NATO allies will warmly welcome them – and we can make a quick decision to make them members of the Allies.”

Sweden has also indicated that it is open to reconsidering its nonaligned policy, as the war in Ukraine has sharply escalated support for NATO membership. A series of opinion polls in Sweden published since early March showed that nearly half of them now favor joining NATO. \

Stoltenberg’s comments come shortly after a two-day meeting of foreign ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, and as Russia continues Redeployment of forces in eastern Ukraine.

It is believed that the Kremlin is preparing to launch an attack on the Donbass region in the coming days.

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Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Thursday pressed the military alliance to provide Kyiv with more weapons to defend itself against Russian forces.

Weapons, weapons and weapons

Kuleba warned of more atrocities such as the killing of civilians in Bucha unless Ukraine was quickly supported with more military aid. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but it has received support from the alliance since the Russian invasion on February 24 – and several member states have already supplied Kyiv with weapons.

However, there are concerns that supplying Ukraine with more weapons, especially heavy offensive equipment such as tanks and combat aircraft, could lead to a direct conflict between Russia and NATO.

Speaking ahead of Thursday’s ministerial meeting, Kuleba said: “My agenda is very simple. It only has three items. It’s weapons, weapons, weapons.” He warned that the resistance demonstrated by Ukrainian forces in recent weeks would be accompanied by “enormous sacrifices” in the absence of greater support from NATO.

NATO member Stoltenberg on Friday refused to delve into specific types of weapons that would be provided to Ukraine, citing “operational reasons.” Nevertheless, he said, the alliance would provide Kyiv with a “broad array” of both modern and older-era weapons.

Stoltenberg said NATO allies recognize the urgent need to provide more support to Ukraine.

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