By John Ikani
Finland’s Government announced on Sunday that it will apply to join NATO, ditching decades of wartime neutrality and ignoring Russian threats of possible retaliation as the Nordic country attempts to strengthen its security following the onset of the war in Ukraine.
President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin made the announcement of the historic policy shift from the country’s traditional neutrality at a joint news conference in Helsinki.
“Today, we, the president and the government’s foreign policy committee, have together decided that Finland … will apply for NATO membership,” Niinistö told reporters gathered at the Presidential Palace.
The Finnish Parliament is expected to endorse the decision in coming days, but it is considered a formality.
A formal membership application will then be submitted to NATO headquarters in Brussels, most likely at the some point next week.
The move would bring the US-led military alliance up to Finland’s 830-mile border with Russia, but could take months to finalize as legislatures of all 30 current members must approve new applicants.
It also risks provoking Russia’s ire, 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 its electricity supply to the Nordic country following problems in receiving payments.
Since the end of World War II, during which Finland was invaded by the Soviet Union, the country has been militarily non-aligned and nominally neutral in order to avoid provoking Russia. It has indulged the Kremlin’s security concerns at times and tried to maintain good trading relations.
The invasion of Ukraine has changed that calculation.
NATO’s deputy chief said on Sunday that the alliance is confident that it can overcome objections by Turkey and quickly admit Finland and Sweden which is also leaning towards securing membership.
Foreign ministers from NATO’s 30 member states are holding two days of talks this weekend in Berlin that are focused on the two Nordic countries’ membership bids.
However on Saturday, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu unexpectedly raised objections, saying it was ‘unacceptable and outrageous’ that the prospective new NATO members gave support to the outlawed Kurdish militant group PKK.
As talks resumed on Sunday, NATO’s Deputy Secretary-General Mircea Geoana said he was confident Ankara’s concerns could be addressed.
‘Turkey is an important ally and expressed concerns that are addressed between friends and allies,’ Geoana told reporters.
‘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 added.
‘Finland and Sweden are already the closest partners of NATO,’ Geoana said.