(CNN) — Finland’s government announced on Sunday it would apply to join NATO, abandoning decades of wartime neutrality and ignoring Russian threats of possible retaliation as the Nordic country tries to strengthen its security after the start of the war in Ukraine.
The decision was announced at a joint press conference on Sunday with President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who said the country’s parliament must ratify the move before Finland can formally apply for NATO membership.
“We hope that the parliament will confirm the decision to apply for NATO membership,” Marin told a news conference in Helsinki on Sunday. “During 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 NATO itself.”
“We are close partners with NATO, but it is a historic decision that we join the alliance and we hope that we make the decisions together,” he added.
The move would bring the US-led military alliance to Finland’s 1,335km border with Russia, but could take months to finalize as the legislatures of the 30 current members must approve the new applicants.
It also risks drawing the ire of Russia, 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 power to the Nordic country after problems 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 to avoid provoking Russia. He has at times indulged the Kremlin’s security concerns and tried to maintain good trade relations.
The invasion of Ukraine has changed that calculus.
On Saturday, Niinistö called to brief Putin on Finland’s intentions to join the bloc, saying “Russian demands at the end of 2021 with the aim of preventing countries from joining NATO and Russia’s massive invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 have disrupted Finland’s security environment,” according to a statement from the Finnish president’s office.
Prime Minister Marin reiterated that sentiment on Sunday, telling reporters that with respect to a nuclear threat, “we wouldn’t make these decisions that we’re making now if we didn’t think they were improving our strength or security.” Of course, we believe that these are the right decisions and these decisions will enhance our national security.”
Sweden has expressed similar frustrations and is also expected to make a similar move to join NATO.
Both countries already meet many of the criteria for NATO membership, including having 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 engage with democratic civil-military relations and institutions.
NATO member Turkey, which has presented itself as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, has expressed reservations about integrating Finland and Sweden into the alliance. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that he does not view Finland and Sweden joining NATO “positively”, accusing both countries of harboring Kurdish “terrorist organisations”.
Finnish President Niinistö said he was “confused” by Erdogan’s skepticism, saying that during a phone conversation with Erdogan a month ago, the Turkish president seemed “favorable” to Finland joining the bloc.
“I thanked him and he was very pleased to receive my fax. So you have to understand that I’m a little confused,” he said.
“I think what we need now is a very clear answer. I am prepared to have a new discussion with President Erdogan on the issues that he has raised,” he added.
He admitted that any NATO member could “block the process”, making it “important” to maintain “good contacts” with everyone, adding that Finland wants to keep its border with Russia peaceful.
Putin sees the alliance as a bulwark aimed at Russia, even though the bloc spent much of the post-Soviet years focusing on issues like terrorism and peacekeeping.
Before Putin invaded Ukraine, he made clear his belief that NATO had gotten too close to Russia and should be stripped of its 1990s borders, before some Russia’s neighbors or former Soviet states joined. the military alliance.
Ukraine’s desire to join the alliance and its status as a NATO partner, seen as a step on the path to eventual full membership, was one of numerous complaints Putin cited in an attempt to justify invading his country. to your neighbor.
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 Finland joining NATO has risen from around 30% to almost 80% in some polls. Most Swedes also approve of their country joining the alliance, according to opinion polls.
Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s ambassador to the European Union, told Sky News on Thursday that if Finland joins the bloc, “this will require certain military technical measures such as improving or increasing the degree of defense readiness along the border with Finland”.
Joshua Berlinger, Nic Robertson and Chris Liakos of CNN contributed to this report.