FILE - Flags flutter in the wind outside NATO headquarters in Brussels, Feb. 7, 2022. The Russian invasion has led historically neutral countries, like Sweden and Finland, looking to join NATO. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys, File)
Finland said on Thursday it would apply for NATO membership "without delay.” Another Nordic country, Sweden, is also expected to seek membership.
The decision angered Russia, whose military is struggling with its war in Ukraine. Russia invaded Ukraine in part to prevent an expansion of the NATO military alliance.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said in a joint statement, “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.”
The announcement signaled that the Nordic country has dropped its position of neutrality that it held throughout the Cold War.
The two leaders added, “NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance.”
Finland’s inclusion in NATO would bring the military alliance’s expansion right up to the Russian border. Finland has the longest border with Russia out of all the European Union’s 27 members.
Russian officials had warned of “military and political repercussions” if Sweden and Finland decided to join NATO. Russian officials had also spoken about the possibility of stationing nuclear-armed missiles on the Baltic Sea.
Finland’s announcement came a day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited both Finland and Sweden to sign a military cooperation agreement. Britain said on Wednesday that it would help the two Nordic nations if they came under attack.
Niinisto wrote on Twitter that he spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy about Finland’s firm support for Ukraine and the country’s plan to join NATO. Niinisto said Zelenskyy “expressed his full support for it.”
The announcement came as Russia suffered another setback in its invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainian forces this week drove Russian troops out of the area around its second-largest city Kharkiv. Russia already withdrew its forces from the area surrounding the capital, Kyiv.
Finland has centuries of uneasy relations with Russia. The country was ruled by the Russian empire from 1809 to 1917. It fought off Soviet invasions before the start of World War Two and gave up some territory.
From 1956 to 1982, Finland kept friendly and close relations with Russia to keep its independence by avoiding conflict. The country stayed neutral during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union and their allies. Finland joined the European Union in 1995 but stayed out of the NATO alliance.
Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, public support in Finland started to grow for membership in NATO.
The latest opinion study by Finnish public broadcaster YLE shows that 76 percent of Finns are in favor of joining NATO. That marks a major increase from earlier years, when only 20 to 30 percent of Finns favored joining the military alliance.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Finland and Sweden would be "warmly welcomed." He said the process for the countries to join the alliance would be "smooth and swift".
Words in This Story
apply - v. to ask formally for something
repercussion - n. something usually bad or unpleasant that happens as a result of an action
setback - n. a problem that makes success less likely
swift - adj. happening or done quickly or immediately