In Policy Shift, Finnish Leaders Say Country Must Apply for NATO 'Without Delay'

Finland, which shares a 1,300 km (810 mile) border and a difficult past with Russia, has gradually stepped up its cooperation with NATO as a partner since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014

Reuters
Reuters
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L) and Finland's President Sauli Niinisto address a joint press conference after their meeting during the visit of The North Atlantic Council (NAC) in Helsinki, in 2021.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L) and Finland's President Sauli Niinisto address a joint press conference after their meeting during the visit of The North Atlantic Council (NAC) in HelsinkiCredit: VESA MOILANEN - AFP
Reuters
Reuters

Finland must apply to join the NATO military alliance "without delay," Finnish President and Prime Minister said on Thursday, a major policy shift triggered by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Finland, which shares a 1,300 km (810 mile) border and a difficult past with Russia, has gradually stepped up its cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a partner since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

But until Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Nordic country had refrained from joining in order to maintain friendly relations with its eastern neighbor.

"Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay," Niinisto and Marin said in a joint statement.

"We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days."

The view among Finns on NATO has changed rapidly after Russia initiated what it calls a "special operation" in Ukraine.

Finnish public support for joining NATO has risen to record numbers over recent months, with the latest poll by public broadcaster YLE showing 76 percent of Finns in favor and only 12 percent against, while support for membership used to linger at only around 25 percent for years prior to the war in Ukraine.

While military non-alignment has long satisfied many Finns as a way of staying out of conflicts, Russia's invasion of sovereign Ukraine has led an increasing number of Finns to view friendly relations with Russia as an empty phrase.

Ukraine's fate has been particularly disturbing for Finland to watch as it fought two wars with Russia between 1939 and 1944, repelling an attempted invasion but losing around 10% of its territory in the subsequent peace agreement.

Finland's accession to NATO would strengthen security in the Baltic Sea region, the Finnish foreign minister told EU lawmakers on Thursday, referring to a region seen as NATO's weakest flank.

"Should Finland decide to apply, the accession of Finland would strengthen the security and stability of the Baltic Sea region and northern Europe," Haavisto said, addressing EU lawmakers via video link.

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