Finland’s leaders announced Thursday their intention for the country to join NATO “without delay,” a move that would bolster the Western military alliance’s strength in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and redraw Europe’s security map.
The Nordic nation, which shares an 810-mile border with Russia, is expected to be given rapid accession to join the alliance and neighboring Sweden looks set to follow with its own bid in the coming days.
President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced their support for the country’s bid to join NATO in a joint statement early Thursday.
“NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance,” Niinistö and Marin said.
“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.”
Finland has traditionally been militarily neutral and enjoyed good relations with Moscow — but the war in Ukraine has led the country to rethink its security and self-determinism.
The move is a sign of European unity and opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression, with Western countries acting to counter fears that the Kremlin wants to reestablish Russian power over its neighbors beyond Ukraine.
The end to Kyiv’s long-standing desire to join NATO and the removal of Western troops in the region were central to Putin’s pre-war demands, but Finland joining would double Russia’s border with the Transatlantic alliance.
Asked on Wednesday if Finland would provoke Russia by joining NATO, Niinistö said Putin would be to blame. “My response would be that you caused this. Look at the mirror,” he said.
Should Finland become a full NATO member, it would be bound by Article 5, under which all members, including the United States, come to the defense of any other member that is attacked.
Sweden, influenced by the eagerness and speed of its Finnish neighbors, is also widely expected to signal its intention to join the alliance in the coming days.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry previously warned of “serious military and political consequences” if either of the two countries join the 30-nation alliance.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has previously said it would be possible to allow Finland and Sweden to join “quite quickly.” Member nations are likely to discuss Finland’s application at a summit in Madrid on June 28.
Finland’s Foreign Minister, Pekka Haavisto, told European Union lawmakers on Thursday that the country would make a significant contribution to regional security.
“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 via video.
“We are convinced that Finland would bring added value to NATO. Our war time strength of the defense forces is 280,000 troops, and the trained reserve is 900,000 men and women,”
Finland won’t formally be covered by Article 5 during its application process, but NATO members are expected to offer it security assurances in the face on any repercussions from Moscow.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday said he had agreed to new deals with both Sweden and Finland to bolster European security, pledging to support both countries’ armed forces should they come under attack.
NATO, formally the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was founded in 1949 as a way for Western powers to respond to the growing power and influence of the Soviet Union.
While Norway was a founding member, Finland has been reluctant until now to fully join the alliance. However, Finland stepped up its collaboration with NATO after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
With modern, well-equipped armed forces that are compatible with NATO’s operations and standards, and an advanced military intelligence network, analysts see Finland as a natural fit both ideologically and practically.
Public opinion in Finland has swung strongly towards membership in recent weeks, with 76 percent in favor and 12 percent against, according a recent poll from public broadcaster YLE. Support for joining was typically around 25 percent in polls before the Ukraine war.
Finland fought two wars against Russia between 1939 and 1944 and thwarted an invasion attempt but lost 10 percent of its territory in the process.