Finland NATO: will ask to join NATO, abandoning decades of neutrality despite threats of retaliation from Russia

The decision was announced at a joint press conference by President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who said the decision needed to be ratified by the country’s parliament. before Finland could formally apply for membership in the alliance.

“We hope parliament will confirm the decision to apply for NATO membership,” Marin said in Helsinki on Sunday. “Over the next few days. It will be based on a strong mandate, with the President of the Republic. We have been in close contact with the governments of NATO member states and with NATO itself.

“We are close partners in NATO, but it is a historic decision that we join NATO and I hope we will make the decisions together,” she added.

The move would take the US-led military alliance to Finland’s 830-mile border with Russia, but could take months to finalize as the legislatures of NATO’s current 30 members must approve new candidates. .

It also risks provoking the ire of Russia, whose President Vladimir Putin told his Finnish counterpart Niinistö on Saturday that abandoning military neutrality and joining the bloc would be a “mistake”, according to a Kremlin statement. On Saturday, Russia cut off its electricity supply to the Nordic country over problems receiving payments.

Since the end of World War II, when Finland was invaded by the Soviet Union, the country has been militarily non-aligned and nominally neutral in order to avoid provoking Russia. He sometimes indulged in Kremlin security concerns and tried to maintain good trade relations.

The invasion of Ukraine changed this calculation.

On Saturday, Niinistö called for informing Putin of Finland’s intentions to join the bloc, saying that “Russia’s demands at the end of 2021 aimed at preventing countries from joining NATO and Russia’s massive invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has changed Finland’s security environment,” according to a statement from Finland’s president’s office.

Marin reiterated the sentiment on Sunday, telling reporters that when it comes to a nuclear threat, “we wouldn’t make these decisions that we’re making now, if we didn’t think they added to our strength or our security. So of course , we believe these are the right decisions and will strengthen our national security.”

Sweden expressed similar frustrations and on Sunday the ruling Social Democratic Party announced that the country should work to join NATO.

A statement posted on the party’s website said the party should, in the event the request is granted by NATO, work to set out unilateral conditions against the placement of nuclear weapons and permanent bases on Swedish territory.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde called it a “historic decision” in a tweet after the announcement, adding: “The Russian invasion of Ukraine has deteriorated the security situation of Sweden and the Europe as a whole”.

Both countries already meet many criteria for NATO membership, which include a functioning democratic political system based on a market economy; treat minority populations fairly; commit to resolving conflicts peacefully; the ability and willingness to make a military contribution to NATO operations; and commit to democratic civil-military relations and institutions.

Turkish reservations

On Sunday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg responded to the news by saying “NATO’s door is open” to the Nordic countries. “Finland and Sweden are NATO’s closest partners,” Stoltenberg told a news conference.

But Turkey, a member of NATO, which presented itself as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, expressed reservations about the integration of these two countries into the alliance. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday he did not view Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership as “positive”, accusing the two countries of harboring Kurdish “terrorist organisations”.

Erdogan was referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which wants an independent state in Turkey. The group has been in an armed struggle with Ankara for decades and has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Turkey also views YPG fighters as an extension of the PKK, even though they were allies of the US-led coalition in Syria and played a major role in eliminating ISIS from northern Syria. Syria. Both Finland and Sweden have a Kurdish community, although Erdogan did not provide details of who he was referring to.

Responding to Erdogan’s request, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said on Saturday: “Well, on the issue of terrorism, I want to be very clear, we are part of the coalition against ISIS, we are participating in the Marrakech meeting. The fight against terrorism is a very important issue for us.”

On Sunday, President Niinistö said he was ‘confused’ by Erdogan’s skepticism, saying that in a phone conversation a month ago the Turkish president had seemed ‘favourable’ to Finland joining the bloc. .

“I think what we need now is a very clear answer. I am ready to have a further discussion with President Erdogan on the issues he has raised,” he added.

While the ratification process could take time, Stoltenberg told reporters on Sunday that Turkey’s intention “is not to block accession.”

“I am confident that we will be able to address the concerns raised by Turkey in a way that does not delay accession or the accession process, so my intention is always to have a quick and speedy process,” he added.

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Putin sees the alliance as a bulwark against Russia, despite the fact that the bloc has spent much of the post-Soviet period focusing on issues such as terrorism and peacekeeping.

Before Putin invaded Ukraine, he made clear his belief that NATO had moved too close to Russia and should be brought back to its 1990s borders, before some of Russia’s neighboring countries or former states Soviets do not join the military alliance.

Ukraine’s desire to join the alliance and its status as a NATO partner – seen as a step on the way to eventual full membership – was one of many grievances cited by Putin in an attempt to justify the invasion of his country by his neighbour.

The irony is that the war in Ukraine has effectively given NATO a new purpose.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, public support for NATO membership in Finland has risen from around 30% to nearly 80% in some polls. Most Swedes also approve of their country joining the alliance, according to opinion polls.

After appearing to cool the rhetoric about joining NATO in March, in order to appease Russia, Ukraine now hopes that its application to join the bloc will be considered quickly. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna told ABC that she hopes “when (he) comes to the consideration of the Ukrainian candidacy, it will also happen much faster,” she said.

CNN’s Joshua Berlinger, Nic Robertson, Frederik Pleitgen, Chris Liakos and Karen Smith contributed to this article.