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Finland’s leaders advocate NATO membership ‘without delay’

HELSINKI (AP) – Finland’s president and prime minister said yesterday they’re in favour of rapidly applying for NATO membership “without delay”, paving the way for the alliance to expand amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The dramatic move by Finland was announced by President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin. It means that Finland is virtually certain to seek NATO membership, though a few steps remain before the application process can begin. Neighbouring Sweden is expected to decide on joining NATO in coming days.

Finland shares a 1,340-kilometre land border with Russia. The Kremlin has warned of “military and political repercussions” if Sweden and Finland decide to join NATO. Should they apply, there will be an interim period lasting from when an application has been handed in until all 30 NATO members’ parliaments have ratified it.

“NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defence alliance,” Niinisto and Marin said in a joint statement. “Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay. We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days.”

The statement yesterday came a day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited both Finland and Sweden to sign a military cooperation agreement.

ABOVE & BELOW: Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin and President Sauli Niinisto. PHOTOS: AP

The United Kingdom pledged on Wednesday to come to the aid of Sweden and Finland if the two Nordic nations came under attack.

During a joint news conference with Johnson and Niinisto in Helsinki, the Finnish head of state said Moscow could only blame itself should his nation of 5.5 million people become a NATO member.

“You (Russia) caused this. Look in the mirror,” Niinisto said pointedly on Wednesday.

In 2017, Sweden and Finland joined the British-led Joint Expeditionary Force, which is designed to be more flexible and respond more quickly than the larger NATO alliance. It uses NATO standards and doctrine, so it can operate in conjunction with NATO, the United Nations (UN) or other multinational coalitions. Fully operational since 2018, the force has held a number of exercises both independently and in cooperation with NATO.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Finland and Sweden have been pondering whether to abandon their historic neutrality and join the 30-member NATO.