Finnish president confirms country will apply to join Nato

Russia warns Finland, Sweden against joining, saying they would have to ‘restore military balance’

Finland has formally confirmed it intends to join Nato, abandoning decades of military non-alignment in a historic decision triggered by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

“Finland is applying for Nato membership,” said the country’s president, Sauli Niinistö, at a press conference. “A protected Finland is being born as part of a stable, strong and responsible Nordic region. We gain security and we also share it. It’s good to keep in mind that security isn’t a zero-sum game.”

The prime minister, Sanna Marin, said the proposal would now be sent to parliament for ratification. "Our decision is historic," she said. "As a member of Nato, we will also be responsible for the security of the alliance as a whole."

With neighbouring Sweden's ruling party also holding a decisive meeting on whether to join the 30-member defensive alliance next week, Moscow's onslaught on Ukraine looks set to usher in the expansion of Nato that Russian president Vladimir Putin claimed he wanted to prevent.

Finland shares an 1,300km border with Russia and, like Sweden, has maintained strict policies of neutrality then non-alignment since the end of the second world war, viewing Nato membership as a provocation of Moscow.

However, Mr Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24th has led to a profound change in its thinking, with public support for Nato accession trebling to about 75 per cent. Polls show a majority of between 50 and 60 per cent are also in favour in Sweden.

Three days after Finland’s leaders said it “must apply for Nato membership without delay”, the membership proposal is expected to be laid before parliament for ratification on Monday.

Mr Niinistö called his Russian counterpart, Mr Putin, on Saturday and informed him his country aimed to join Nato, in a conversation he described as “direct and straightforward”. He added: “Avoiding tensions was considered important.”

Russia has repeatedly warned Finland and Sweden against joining Nato, saying such a move would oblige it to “restore military balance” by strengthening its defences in the Baltic Sea region, including by deploying nuclear weapons.

Mr Putin responded to Mr Niinistö’s call by saying Nato membership “would be a mistake, since there is no threat to Finland’s security”, according to a readout of the call released by the Kremlin.

After a cross-party Swedish parliamentary review on Friday said joining Nato would boost Sweden’s national security and help stabilise the Nordic region, leaders of the country’s ruling Social Democrats were also poised on Sunday to jettison the party’s longstanding opposition to Nato membership.

Sweden

With a decision expected in the early evening, Swedish media reported that - assuming Helsinki sends its application in on Monday – Stockholm is likely to follow suit as early as Tuesday, with the alliance set to launch the accession process immediately afterwards.

Nato's secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, has said both countries would be "welcomed with open arms" and that the accession process would be quick, though formal approval by all the alliance's members could take several months.

However, Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has expressed his opposition to the move, based on what he said was the countries' accommodating attitude towards the Kurdistan Workers' party (PKK), which is on the EU's list of terrorist organisations.

Nato's deputy secretary general, Mircea Geoana, said on Sunday he was confident Turkey's concerns over Finland and Sweden joining the alliance could be addressed. "I am confident if these countries decide to seek membership in Nato we will be able to welcome them to find all conditions for consensus to be met," he said.

Finland's foreign minister, Pekka Haavisto, also said he was "confident" of reaching an agreement with Turkey. – Guardian