Finland's government has made a historic decision. The Nordic country is leaving behind its neutrality and announcing its intention to apply for NATO membership "without delay". President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced in a joint statement that NATO membership would "strengthen Finland's security". The Finnish leaders hope that the process necessary "to make this decision will be taken quickly in the coming days". Helsinki plans to formally submit its application by the end of this week or early next week.
"Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has changed the security policy situation in such a way that there is no going back to the way things were."— Finnish Government (@FinGovernment) May 3, 2022
PM @MarinSanna participated today in a meeting on the European security situation organised by the Federal Government of Germany. pic.twitter.com/JDDQDRkC1L
In the note, Niinisto and Marin point out that the country has witnessed a "major debate" on the issue. According to national polls, more than 75% of citizens are in favour of membership. "It has taken time for parliament and society as a whole to establish their positions on the issue", as well as "to establish close international contacts with NATO and its member countries and Sweden". Stockholm has also expressed its intention to join the Alliance. "We wanted to give the discussion the space it needed," the statement added.
Before announcing the decision, Niinistö said Finland's NATO membership was not directed against anyone during a press conference with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who travelled to the country to sign mutual security agreements that "will strengthen northern Europe's defences against new threats". The Prime Minister also travelled to Sweden with the same agenda.
During question time, a journalist alluded to Russia's "political and military" threats against Finland and Sweden should they join NATO. The Finnish president blamed Russian leader Vladimir Putin for this situation. "You provoked this. Look in the mirror," Niinistö responded.
Finland, despite being part of the European Union, had maintained a neutral stance towards NATO and Russia until the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. The country was invaded by the Soviet Union on 30 November 1939, a few months after the outbreak of the Second World War. After the war, Ukraine was able to gain independence but had to cede 10% of its national territory to the USSR, including its second most populous city, Viipuri.
Russia has been quick to respond to the Finnish government's decision. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Helsinki's accession to NATO would "undoubtedly" be a threat to the country. "NATO enlargement and the Alliance's rapprochement to our borders do not make the world and our continent more stable and secure," Peskov told reporters, according to AFP. The spokesman also stressed that "the most diverse options are always considered and analysed".
Shortly after the invasion of Ukraine began, Moscow addressed Finland and Sweden directly, warning that NATO membership would have consequences. Nevertheless, both countries have continued to express their desire to join the Alliance. As a result, Russia has even threatened to deploy nuclear weapons in the Baltic if Helsinki and Stockholm join NATO. Russia's Deputy Chairman of the Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, stressed that, should this happen, there could no longer be talk of a "nuclear-free" Baltic.
For both Finland and Sweden, Russia's aggression against Ukraine was a turning point. The fear of going through the same thing at the hands of their big neighbour to the east has pushed both to want to join NATO. As Marin warned during a meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, her country, which shares a 1,300-kilometre border with Russia, should "be prepared for all kinds of Russian actions" because since the invasion of Ukraine "everything has changed". Andersson agreed, noting that "the security landscape has changed completely".
A Ukrainian flag flies over Azovstal. A Ukrainian flag over Mariupol. On the 75th day of the defence. The true Flag of Victory is not somewhere in a foreign capital. It flies over its own land.#UAarmy pic.twitter.com/ZjsF7qEuTm— Defence of Ukraine (@DefenceU) May 9, 2022
Despite Russia's threats, several analysts consider military action against these countries unlikely. "Many of the Russian troops stationed near the Finnish border were relocated to Ukraine and have suffered significant losses," argues Heli Hautala, a Finnish diplomat and researcher at the Center for a New American Security, as quoted by the Associated Press.
Therefore, according to Hautala, Moscow is likely to launch disinformation campaigns, cyberattacks and economic counterattacks on the country, as well as direct migration towards the Finnish-Russian border, similar to what happened on Poland's border with Belarus last November.
Moreover, as Anna Weislander, director of the Atlantic Council's Northern Europe think tank, tells CNBC, "Sweden and Finland joining NATO will increase deterrence in the region". Weislander highlights "the assets" that both countries will provide to the Alliance, as well as "the ability to plan for the security of northern Europe in a comprehensive way".
NATO, for its part, would "quickly" accept the membership of Finland and Sweden, "as Russia's invasion of Ukraine forces a radical rethink of European security", five diplomats relieved Reuters. The sources confirmed to the news agency that both countries' applications would be approved, even before the NATO summit scheduled for 28-30 June in Madrid. "There is no exact timetable. We will not wait for the Madrid summit if it can be approved before," explains a diplomat.
Some member states such as Estonia, Denmark, Poland and Romania have already shown their support for Finland's accession, saying they would back a rapid accession process. Even NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the Alliance's doors were open to these two countries.
History being made by our northern neighbours. Today's announcement by @MarinSanna & @niinisto paves the way for #Finland joining #NATO.— Kaja Kallas (@kajakallas) May 12, 2022
You can count on our full support. We support a rapid accession process. From our side will make necessary steps quickly.
Officials also point out that now is the right time for Helsinki and Stockholm to join the Alliance, as "Russia is not in a position to attack (the Nordic nations)". "If not now, then when?" asks another, alluding to Russian losses in Ukraine.
After Finland, it is the turn of Sweden, another country that in recent months has signalled its intention to apply for NATO membership. Foreign Minister Ann Linde has described Helskini's decision as "important".
Important message today from 🇫🇮 President @niinisto & PM @MarinSanna on @NATO membership. 🇫🇮 is 🇸🇪 closest security & defence partner, and we need to take 🇫🇮 assessments into account. 🇸🇪 will decide after the report from the security policy consultations has been presented.— Ann Linde (@AnnLinde) May 12, 2022
"Sweden will decide after the report on security policy consultations has been presented," she wrote on her Twitter account. According to Swedish media, Stockholm plans to submit its request next week, after a summit of the ruling Social Democrats on Sunday.