Finland has confirmed it will apply to join NATO despite the Russian president’s warning that it would be a “mistake” to do so.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said joining the military alliance would “maximize” his country’s security after Russia invaded Ukraine.
A formal membership application is expected to be submitted to NATO headquarters in Brussels next week.
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“It’s a historic day. A new era is beginning,” Niinisto said.
He added that the decision gives him “security of mind” and that membership is of “huge significance” for the country.
“In the future, I described that Finnish-Russian relations will change and I’m sure the Russians think the same way but, as I said, there are everyday issues where you have to be able to cooperate,” the president said.
Finland, which shares a long border with Russia, was previously a neutral country.
Yesterday, Mr Niinisto informed Vladimir Putin of his intentions, triggering a Russian president warns that abandoning neutrality would be a ‘mistake’.
In response, the Finnish leader told Mr Putin that the invasion of Ukraine had changed the country’s security environment.
Other key developments:
• Ukraine wins the Eurovision Song Contest in a huge show of support from the rest of the continent
• G7 countries promise more military and economic aid to Ukraine
• Russia has “probably” lost “a third” of its ground troops since the start of the invasion, says the UK
• Russia’s military advance appears to be faltering, senior NATO official says
• “Four enemy missiles” hit Ukrainian military infrastructure, local governor says
Finland’s application for NATO membership should be followed by a similar move by Sweden.
Following the announcement, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said the candidacies from both countries are “very important” and will “strengthen the whole Nordic region”.
An expansion of the military alliance by 30 countries would be a blow to Mr Putin, who entered the war in, what he said, an attempt to thwart his eastward advance.
The countries of the alliance are required to defend each other if one of them is attacked.
The announcement came as a meeting of NATO foreign ministers took place in Berlin, where the war in Ukraine and the enlargement of the alliance were discussed.
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Will the UK support Finland’s bid?
Speaking at the meeting, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said “there was strong support” for a “more comprehensive NATO”.
“At NATO this weekend, we agreed that we must continue to help Ukraine win and push back against Russia. Putin must face lasting defeat in Ukraine, Russia must be contained and such aggression must never happen again,” she added.
“NATO’s open door policy is essential and if Finland and Sweden decide to apply for membership, it is clear that they will strengthen the alliance and European security as a whole.”
Earlier, Ms Truss said the UK was “strongly supportive” of Finland and Sweden applying for membership.
Former British army officer Ed Arnold told Sky News that if the two countries joined NATO it would be a “very important moment”, especially in terms of establishing European security.
He added that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already signed joint statements to ensure they are “secure in terms of the NATO bid and the ratification process, which will take a few months”.
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What do other NATO members think?
On Saturday, Turkey raised objections to potential demands from the two Nordic countries, saying both “openly support and engage” with the banned Kurdish militant group PKK and the “terrorist organization” YPG.
However, NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana said he was “confident” that the alliance will be able to address Turkey’s concerns and called on all countries to find “the conditions for a consensus be reunited”.
“Finland and Sweden are already NATO’s closest partners,” he said, adding that he expects allies to view their candidacies positively.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said her country and others have made it clear they are willing to speed up the domestic ratification process for Finland and Sweden.
“If these two countries decide to join, they can join very quickly,” she said.
Meanwhile, Denmark has rejected suggestions that Mr Putin’s objections to Finland joining the alliance would prevent him from accepting new members.
“Each European country has the fundamental right to choose its own security apparatus,” he said.
He added that NATO will also stand with other countries, such as Georgia, which he says are being “instrumentalised” by Russia.
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