Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay, leaders say

epa09780412 Finland's President Sauli Niinisto (R) and Prime Minister Sanna Marin have official endorsed joining NATO. EPA-EFE/KIMMO BRANDT

Updated with comments and reactions as they come in.

Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Thursday (12 May) officially endorsed the idea that their country should join NATO.

The step comes as Russia’s war in Ukraine has prompted a domestic debate and prepared the ground for a membership application in the coming days.

“Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay,” the two leaders said in a joint statement. 

“We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days,” they added.

Until recently, Finnish leaders saw NATO membership as an unnecessary provocation of Russia, but public support for membership has also increased since the outbreak of war.

Both Niinistö and Marin, over the past weeks, have signalled a new openness to join the alliance and benefit from its mutual defence clause once they become a full-scale member.

“As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defence alliance,” the leaders said in their statement.

Marin’s Social Democratic Party is expected to announce its position on Saturday.

The next steps now include the president and ministerial committee on foreign and security policymaking the formal decision to apply and presenting it formally to the Finish parliament, which will discuss and vote on the proposal.

In March, Finland’s government initiated a security policy review and delivered a report for parliament to discuss in April, while also holding discussions with all parliamentary groups to secure backing for the decision to join the treaty.

Should the answer by the Finish parliament be positive as anticipated, Finland could formally ask to join NATO as soon as next week.

After that, the 30 current NATO countries must unanimously support it.

Finland, which shares a 1,300 kilometre border and a difficult past with Russia, has gradually stepped up its cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a partner since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

Finland’s rapid shift towards NATO is likely to pull along neighbouring Sweden.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has previously said it would be possible to allow Finland and Sweden to join “quite quickly”.

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine extends Moscow’s military power to the borders of several NATO members, NATO partners Finland and Sweden have been made part of an intensified exchange of information and NATO’s strategic communication.

Finland, Sweden to receive enhanced access to NATO intel over Ukraine

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine extends Moscow’s military power to the borders of several NATO members, NATO partners Finland and Sweden can be part of an intensified exchange of information and NATO’s strategic communication.

This means the two countries can participate in enhanced intelligence-sharing and strategic communications on a case-by-case basis.

Finland and Sweden are two of six countries known as ‘enhanced partners’, largely due to their contributions to NATO operations. As such, they have wider options for cooperation than non-enhanced partners.

Russia has repeatedly warned both countries against joining the alliance.

In March, its foreign ministry repeatedly stated “there will be serious military and political consequences” if they do.

In the meantime, the question will be what kind of security assurances both countries will be able to secure for the time in between full membership in which they are not yet protected by NATO’s Article 5, the mutual defence clause.

On Wednesday (11 May), the UK signed agreements confirming mutual security assurances with Finland and Sweden after Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited both Helsinki and Stockholm.

***Charles Szumski contributed to the reporting.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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