Finland prepared to join Nato without Sweden, says minister

State to proceed with membership ‘before summer’ as support for move rises to 62%

Finland is prepared to apply for Nato membership in the coming weeks regardless of how neighbouring Sweden decides, its foreign minister Pekka Haavisto has said.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has upended old certainties in northern Europe and Helsinki and Stockholm are engaged in close debate – and bilateral consultation – about joining the defence alliance together.

Finland’s shared 1,300km border with Russia has helped concentrate public opinion on Nato and Mr Haavisto said most Finns see “no solution where we could close our eyes to what has happened in Ukraine . . . and the cruelty of this warfare”.

“Currently I think the mood in parliament, if you look at the majority of MPs supporting the decision, is that yes, it includes the possibility to go without Sweden,” Mr Haavisto told The Irish Times. “It would be good to do the same things at the same time as Sweden, but that depends on Swedish decisions. It is too early to guess the date but I think before the summer we are proceeding.”

Given its long history with Russia, postwar Finland pursued a course of neutrality and military non-alignment. Support for Nato membership, just 19 per cent five years ago, jumped to 53 per cent in a February poll for public service broadcaster YLE – the first majority ever – and 62 per cent in March.

In the 11-party Finnish parliament, which will have the final say on membership, all but two have come out in favour of Nato membership.

During Wednesday’s parliamentary committee hearings, Mr Haavisto and other government ministers faced detailed questions about the nature of the alliance and how Finland would fare if its strong military was stretched to secure the sprawling Baltic region.

Nuclear weapons

Other MPs wanted to know how safe Finland will be in the period between any application – likely by late May – and full membership, requiring ratification by all 30 Nato member states.

This process could take anything from four months to a year, during which Finland would not yet be part of the Nato mutual defence pact. In the recent past, the Kremlin has vowed to move nuclear weapons to the Baltic region if letters of application are sent to Nato by Helsinki or Stockholm.

Mr Haavisto declined to speculate in public on what Moscow may have planned, but he admits that Finland’s ability to defend its sovereignty does not extend beyond conventional and cyber or hybrid threats.

“We are in the same boat with many countries: we have limited ability against non-conventional threats,” he said.

While Nato has vowed to process the applications “quickly”, many Finns are unimpressed by guarantees of support from existing alliance members and fear the ratification process could yet become entangled in other Nato members’ domestic politics.

Already this week, Mr Haavisto was forced to intervene in a spat over electoral law between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

An unknown closer to home is Sweden, where support for Nato membership in Sweden is five points lower than Finland but rising, up from 51 per cent to 57 per cent last week in polls. Given close bilateral ties, particularly in security matters, the idea of proceeding without its closest neighbour fills many Finnish MPs with horror, particularly those more resigned than enthusiastic about joining the alliance.

“This parliamentary debate is all a show, it’s a done deal on Nato,” said Erkki Tuomioja, a leading MP with Finland’s ruling Social Democrats. The party of prime minister Sanna Marin was long wary of alliance membership and, even now, Mr Tuomioja said, “you’ll find people in my party who will say, ‘if we make a mistake, we have to do it with Sweden’”.