Finland is "likely" to apply to join Nato given that polls show majority public support for membership, Finnish minister for European affairs Tytti Tuppurainen said on a visit to Dublin on Wednesday.
Finland and Sweden are officially militarily non-aligned but Russia's invasion of Ukraine has led to a surge in support in both countries for membership of the western defensive alliance.
Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin, speaking alongside her Swedish counterpart on Wednesday, said her country would decide whether to apply for Nato membership "within weeks".
“There are different perspectives to apply for Nato membership or not to apply and we have to analyse these very carefully. But I think our process will be quite fast,” she said.
Her country, which shares a 1,340km border with Russia, has begun a process to consider Nato membership through parliamentary debates and votes, as the Scandinavian nation weighs up a historic shift in defence policy in response to Russia's attack on Ukraine.
Sweden is also considering applying for Nato membership in time for Nato’s summit in June.
Ms Tuppurainen said Finland’s expected bid to join Nato was a “natural process” and the finalisation of its integration into the “western sphere” that began with EU membership in 1995.
Moscow has warned Finland and Sweden against joining Nato in recent weeks. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last week Russia would have to "rebalance the situation" with its own measures if the two countries became members of the alliance.
Speaking to The Irish Times after delivering a speech to a gathering of Irish diplomats at Dublin Castle, Ms Tuppurainen said Finland had accepted that Russia “will probably react in a nasty way” over a Nato bid, but it had no choice in the matter in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“There will be implications for sure if we decide to join Nato, but if we don’t join Nato it will have an impact as well, so we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Now the majority of Finns have already made up their mind,” she said.
Recent polls have shown support in Finland for Nato membership doubling to 60 per cent. One poll published on Monday showed support reaching 68 per cent.
Significantly, support within Finland’s parliament is also strong. In a recent poll of 112 members of parliament – more than half the chamber – just six MPs opposed Nato membership.
Ms Tuppurainen said Russia had “shown its real face” in Ukraine.
“It is capable of attacking an innocent, neighbouring country, Ukraine, and it is capable of using such violence that is unfathomable. Attacking civilian targets and civilian people is beyond our imagination. Finns are shocked and appalled, and now it is time to take action,” she said.
“Russia has shown that it is able to do almost anything that is beyond our imagination, so we have to prepare for the worst now.”
The invasion of Ukraine should be a “wake-up call” to all Europeans, she said.
"Russia has seriously challenged the whole security order of Europe. It has to do with every one of us. We have to stand up for our values, for our interests and our way of life," she said.
Finland was not just looking to Nato but welcomed the EU’s “strategic compass” plan to strengthen the bloc’s defences and security in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she added.
“Nato is not the silver bullet that will solve all of our problems. We need to invest in different security guarantees for Finland and the European Union is very important,” she said.
Minister of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne, speaking alongside Ms Tuppurainen, said it was "very helpful" for the State to understand fully the reasons pushing Finland towards Nato.
“It is not as might be caricatured in this country as warmongering, but rather an absolutely critical part of their defence,” he said.