Finland, Sweden to join NATO without delay

Finland, Sweden to join NATO without delay

On May 11, 2022, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto addresses a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland. FRANK AUGSTEIN POOL HELSINKI Finland must apply to join the NATO military alliance without delay Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Thursday a major policy shift triggered by the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Finland, with a 1,300 km border with Russia, has stepped up its cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a partner since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

The Nordic country had refrained from joining in order to maintain friendly relations with its eastern neighbor until the conflict in Ukraine.

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

We hope the national steps that are still needed to make this decision will be taken quickly within the next few days. Five diplomats and officials told Reuters ahead of the Finnish announcement that Finland and Sweden are expected to apply to join the alliance in the coming days.

The Baltic countries, which were once ruled from Moscow and now are members of NATO, welcomed Finland's announcement.

Finland decided to join the Alliance. NATO is about to get stronger. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said the Baltics are about to get safer.

The view among Finns on NATO has changed quickly since Russia initiated what it calls a special operation in Ukraine.

ALSO READ: The Times: Finland, Sweden are set to join NATO as soon as summer.

Finnish public support for joining NATO has risen to record numbers over the past few 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 be only around 25 percent for years prior to the conflict in Ukraine.

Finland's rapid shift to NATO is likely to pull along neighboring Sweden.

Sweden's ruling Social Democrats are expected to decide on Sunday whether or not to overturn decades of opposition to NATO membership, a move that would almost certainly lead to Sweden joining the 30 nation alliance.

Russia has warned both countries against joining the alliance. As recently as March 12 its foreign ministry said there will be serious military and political consequences if they do.

ALSO READ: NATO to increase presence in the Baltic Sea if Sweden applies.

In March, Finland's government initiated a security policy review and delivered a report for parliament to discuss in April, while holding discussions with all parliamentary groups to secure backing for the decision to join the treaty.

In parallel to the domestic process, Finland's president and prime minister have toured NATO countries to win their support for Finland's membership.

Previously, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said it would be possible to allow Finland and Sweden to join quite quickly.