Finland and Sweden have both decided to apply for membership of NATO, setting aside decades of effective neutrality in light of growing concerns for their own security following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both countries announced.
“A new era is beginning,” Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said alongside Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Sunday, announcing a step that the two leaders called historic.
Later on, Sweden announced its intention to apply for NATO, membership in a move that marks a major shift in their position on the defence alliance.
After Finland’s announcement, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson’s governing Social Democrats also announced its support for Swedish membership of NATO following a specially-convened meeting on Sunday.
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However, Sweden’s Social Democrats have indicated they want neither nuclear weapons nor permanent NATO bases on their territory.
The party’s policy switch comes in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has triggered a rethink on NATO membership in both countries.
“We are faced with a fundamentally changed security environment in Europe,” Andersson said. “The essential question for us is how best to protect Sweden and the Kremlin has shown that it is prepared to use force to achieve its political goals.”
Finland, meanwhile, is keen to avoid another conflict with Russia, with which it shares a border of around 1300 kilometres.
“We have had wars with Russia, and we don’t want that kind of future for ourselves, for our children, and this is why we’re making these decisions today and in the upcoming weeks, so there will never again be a war,” the Finnish premier said.
“When we look at Russia, we see a very different kind of Russia today than we saw just a few months ago. Everything changed when Russia attacked Ukraine,” Marin said. “I personally think that we cannot trust any more that there will be a peaceful future.”
“That’s why we’re making the decision to join NATO. It’s an act of peace,” she said, adding that Finland was prepared for possible responses from Moscow.
In a telephone call with Niinistö on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin described Finland’s planned accession to NATO as a mistake.
According to the Kremlin, Russia does not pose a threat to its Nordic neighbour and Finland’s departure from its long-standing neutrality would lead to a deterioration in relations. However, Niinistö also stressed that no direct threats were made.
The alliance’s joint front had earlier been undermined somewhat when Turkey said it would only agree to Finland and Sweden joining NATO under certain conditions.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg later said he didn’t expect Finland and Sweden’s accession to be delayed by Turkey’s objections.
Turkey had made it clear that it did not want to block accession, Stoltenberg said at the end of a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Berlin.
Turkey called on its NATO allies at the Berlin meeting on Sunday to support its fight against the banned Kurdish Workers’ Party PKK and the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria, while also slamming several NATO member states for restricting weapons exports to Turkey due to its fight against these same groups.