Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin issued a joint statement on Thursday saying the country would apply to join the military alliance
Finland has signaled its intention to join NATO, a move that would end decades of neutrality and greatly anger Russia.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin issued a joint statement on Thursday saying the country would apply to join the military alliance.
Sweden is expected to announce in the coming days whether it plans to join as well.
Of the 27 EU members, Finland and Sweden are two of just six that are not currently members of NATO.
Mr Niinisto and Mr Marin said: “NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a NATO member, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance. Finland must immediately apply for NATO membership.
“We hope that the national steps still necessary for this decision will be initiated quickly in the next few days.”
Russia threatened “retaliation” after Finland declared its intention to join NATO.
Kremlin spokesman Dimitri Peskov said Finland’s NATO membership would “definitely” pose a threat to Russia.
Russia’s foreign ministry said joining NATO is a “radical change” in Finnish foreign policy, adding that Moscow “will be forced to take retaliatory measures, both military-technical and otherwise, to stop threats to its national security.” .
In response to the announcement, Mr Peskov said: “Finland has joined the European Union in unfriendly moves towards our country. This must cause our regret and is a reason for corresponding symmetrical reactions on our part.”
This isn’t the first time Russia has threatened Finland with NATO membership – and Ukraine’s growing rapprochement with the Western alliance was a major reason for the invasion.
Vladimir Putin sees NATO’s eastward expansion as a threat to Russia’s borders.
Last month, Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, warned that “there will be no more talk of a nuclear-weapon-free Baltic” if Sweden and Finland join the alliance.
“If our hand is forced, well, notice that’s not what we suggested,” he said.
He added that Russia’s 810-mile land border with Finland would need to be “strengthened” if it joined the alliance.
The Russian Foreign Ministry previously said: “We consider the Finnish government’s commitment to a military non-aligned policy to be an important factor in ensuring security and stability in Northern Europe.
“Finland’s entry into NATO would have serious military and political implications.”
Russian lawmaker Vladimir Jabarov said Finland’s entry into NATO could lead to the “destruction of his country”.
He added: “If Finland’s leadership decides to do this, it will be a strategic mistake.
“Finland, which has been developing successfully over the years thanks to close trade and economic ties with Russia, would become the target.”
NATO operates a system of collective defense, which means that if one NATO member attacks, the others must intervene to defend it.
However, Finland would not benefit from this until its membership was ratified. This may take some time.
Finland has ties to NATO but previously believed it didn’t need NATO membership to stay safe.
The Russo-Finnish Winter War, which took place from 1939 to 1940, created a strong belief in military capability for Finland. Finland also enlists youthful males for a short and intense period of military training, meaning it has a large and capable citizen military reserve.
However, Finland is part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme, which allows for flexible cooperation between the two parties and is widely seen as a confidence-building institution.