Sunday, June 26, 2022

Finland officially confirms that it is aiming to join NATO, with Sweden to follow

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NATO’s deputy secretary-general said he was confident unexpected objections from Turkey could be addressed as other members push for speedy ratification of the offer

Finland has officially confirmed its intention to join NATO in a historic decision prompted by Russia’s invasion of its neighbor Ukraine, and Sweden is expected to follow suit.

The Nordic country’s proposal, which shares an 810-mile border with Russia, means it is abandoning its decades-old stance of non-military orientation.

It comes after public support for joining the 30-member defense coalition tripled to around 75 percent following Putin’s attack on Ukraine.

Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö said at a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki on Sunday: “A protected Finland is born as part of a stable, strong and responsible Nordic region. We gain security and we also share it.”

Prime Minister Sanna Marin said the decision was “historic”, adding: “As a member of NATO he will also be responsible for the security of the alliance as a whole.”

It comes as Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats, who have also been pursuing strict non-aligned policies since World War II, were poised to vote on joining the coalition later on Sunday.

Finland’s application for membership will now go to Parliament for ratification, but this is seen as a formality.

A formal membership application is expected to be submitted to NATO headquarters in Brussels next week.

Russian President Putin has long warned Finland and Sweden against joining NATO, claiming he undertook the invasion of Ukraine to thwart their eastward advance.

Both countries had previously considered joining the alliance would be an unnecessary provocation from Moscow, but since the outbreak of war opinion has changed rapidly, with many citizens now believing that NATO membership will help keep them safe.

The Kremlin has warned that the move will oblige it to “restore military balance” by strengthening defenses in the Baltic region, including the use of nuclear weapons.

On Saturday, Niinisto called Putin to tell him about Finland’s plans to join the alliance.

Putin responded by saying it would be “a mistake as there is no threat to Finland’s security,” according to a tender released by the Kremlin, and on Saturday Russia cut power to the country.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Finland and Sweden would be “received with open arms”.

Ratifying an application for membership normally takes up to a year, but many members have called for the process to be completed quickly.

Canada’s Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said she hopes it can be completed “within weeks,” while Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told reporters there must be “no transition period, no gray area where her status is unclear.”

In an unexpected move, however, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu objected to Finland joining the bloc on Saturday.

He said it was “unacceptable and outrageous” that the potential new NATO members supported the banned Kurdish militant group PKK.

Mircea Geoana, NATO’s deputy secretary-general, said Sunday he was confident Turkey’s concerns could be addressed.

He told reporters: “Turkey is a key ally and has raised concerns that are being addressed between friends and allies.

“I am confident that if these countries decide to join NATO to find all the conditions for a consensus to be met, we can welcome them.”

At a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said “there is strong support” for a “more global NATO”.

“NATO’s open-door policy is crucial, and if Finland and Sweden decide to apply for membership, it is clear that they would strengthen the alliance and European security overall,” she said.

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