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Finland's leaders favor NATO bid

Finland’s president and prime minister announced support for immediately applying to join NATO, a major reversal due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Finland's 19th century Helsinki Cathedral
Finland's 19th century Helsinki Cathedral (AN/Michael Ranzau)

Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced their support on Thursday for immediately applying to join NATO, a major reversal of the nation's military stance brought on by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Finland and Russia share a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border, which has led to renewed debate in Finland over how best to ensure its security in light of the Ukraine war since late February.  "During this spring, an important discussion on Finland’s possible NATO membership has taken place," Niinistö and Marin said in a joint statement.

"NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance," they said. "Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay. We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days."

Adding Finland to NATO would more than double the 72-year-old military alliance's borders with Russia, dealing a major blow to Russia's President Vladimir Putin, who says NATO already poses too much of a threat. Moscow warned against any NATO expansion on its border and said that would lead to “military-technical” retaliatory measures, according to a report from Russian state-run news agency TASS based on a statement from Russia's foreign ministry.

A day earlier, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Finland and Sweden to sign a military cooperation agreement pledging help if they were attacked. Five years ago, the two Baltic countries joined the British-led Joint Expeditionary Force in its military exercises, some of which also included NATO.

NATO's 'open door policy'

Finland adhered to a strict policy of Cold War neutrality between World War II and the Soviet Union's dissolution in 1991, but joined the European Union in 1995 while trying to maintain a non-antagonistic military stance toward Russia. Finland's neighbor, Sweden, also is expected to decide whether to pursue NATO membership by the end of the week. Sweden does not have a border with Russia, but the two share the Baltic Sea region.

NATO, based on the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, includes 28 European nations, Canada and the United States. It had no immediate response to the potential expansion but plans to hold an informal meeting of foreign ministers in Berlin over the weekend. NATO's Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană emphasized in Washington earlier that NATO’s "open door policy" and the E.U.'s expansion spread “freedom, democracy and human rights” across Central and Eastern Europe.

The open door policy is based on Article 10 of NATO's treaty which says membership is open to any “European state in a position to further the principles of this treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area." Any decision to expand requires unanimous approval.

Estonia's Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said Finland's announcement is "history being made by our northern neighbors" and her nation welcomes it. "You can count on our full support," said Kallas. "We support a rapid accession process. From our side will make necessary steps quickly."