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BRUSSELS – Finland will launch an immediate debate on joining NATO, Finnish officials said on Wednesday as the country reconsiders its longstanding position outside the Western military alliance following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin said the decision would be made in the coming weeks.
“There are different points of view on whether or not to apply for NATO membership, and we need to analyze them very carefully,” she told a news conference in Stockholm, according to Reuters. “But I think our process will be pretty fast.”
Marin spoke with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Anderson, who said Sweden was also reconsidering its position outside NATO after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offensive in Ukraine plunged Europe into the most serious security crisis since World War II.
Ministers spoke as the Finnish government released an official assessment Wednesday of how Russia’s invasion changed its security environment, starting a process that was expected to end with a request to join NATO.
The assessment, known as the White Paper, does not recommend NATO membership, officials said, but will be used as a starting point for parliamentary debate as the country undergoes a historic change in its defense stance.
Finland and neighboring Sweden are officially non-military, but Russia’s aggression has led to a dramatic change in public sentiment. Wednesday’s White Paper marks the beginning of the process for Finland, where support for NATO membership jumped to 68 percent, according to a poll over the weekend.
Their potential accession would change European security and likely provoke outrage from the Kremlin. Putin uses NATO enlargement as a pretext for invading Ukraine. Now his brutal war there could bring the military alliance closer to his door.
The Biden administration said relatively little publicly about the potential accession of Finland and Sweden, perhaps hoping to avoid further reaction from Russia, but stressed NATO’s open policy. The issue of enlarging the alliance was discussed last week at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the war in Ukraine has raised fears that Putin may have targets outside of Ukraine.
“The reason we may see additional interest in the defense alliance is precisely because we are witnessing offensive operations and aggression by the Russian Federation,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “So, if there is any reason for increased interest in the NATO alliance … the basis of that, I think it’s fair to say, is Vladimir Putin.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg spoke in Brussels ahead of an emergency meeting as Russia’s war in Ukraine entered its second month on March 24. (Video: Reuters, Photo: Reuters)
Speaking to reporters in Helsinki after the newspaper’s release, Finnish Defense Minister Anti Kaikonen said he hoped the decision would be made before the summer solstice in late June. He said Finland’s strong military capability would contribute to NATO’s security.
Finnish Foreign Minister Peka Haavisto said he hoped Finland and Sweden would take every potential step towards membership on the same schedule, but said Stockholm would make its own decision.
Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats, who have traditionally opposed NATO membership, have also said they will reconsider their position in the coming months – although the exact timing is unclear.
Sweden and Finland already have deep ties with the alliance. Both have worked with NATO on military interoperability, trained with Alliance forces and met NATO standards when it comes to “political, democratic, civilian control of security institutions and the armed forces,” the secretary general said last week. of NATO Jens Stoltenberg.
“There are no other countries closer to NATO,” Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, told reporters in Brussels.
Finland’s and Sweden’s accession to NATO could put Trump’s Republican Party in a hot spot
“They are one of our closest allies in Europe, so I can’t imagine a situation where there will be huge opposition to this idea,” said Julian Smith, the US ambassador to NATO, last week.
As Helsinki and Stockholm consider whether to do so formally, key questions are whether and how they will be protected from potential Russian aggression between expressions of interest and actual membership, which could take months.
Russia has warned of “serious military-political consequences” and “revenge” if the two countries join. Although Finnish leaders have largely downplayed the threat, the country is preparing for a number of possible responses from Russia, from serious to mostly symbolic, said Henri Vanhanen, a foreign policy expert and adviser to Finland’s National Coalition Party.
Vanhanen expects NATO to find ways to “signal that Sweden and Finland are protected” in the meantime, such as making a political commitment to secure accession or stepping up military cooperation in some way.
“If they give us a signal that we are welcome, it is in their best interest to do so as smoothly as possible,” he said. “It will be a huge blow to NATO if its open-door policy is undermined.
Last week, Stoltenberg said he was “confident that the alliance will find ways to address concerns about the period between potential candidacy and ratification”, but declined to give details of what is being discussed.
“I don’t think it’s helpful to start speculating in the public exactly how we’re going to do this,” he said. “But I am confident that if they apply, we will sit down and find a way to deal with this problem.”
Putin’s war brings Finland and Sweden closer to joining NATO
U.S. officials minimized the likelihood of any Russian attack on Finland or Sweden during their potential application periods, if applicable, or any NATO-style security guarantees, but speculated that Washington would look for other ways to strengthen the security of the parties before their accession.
Even without NATO protection, Finland and Sweden should theoretically have some kind of collective security measure. Article 42.7 of the Treaty on European Union states that if a member is a victim of armed aggression, other members must come to his aid.
Marin from Finland and Anderson from Sweden wrote a letter last month to European Council President Charles Michel, focusing on the “enhanced role of EU solidarity and commitment to the mutual defense clause” in Europe’s new security environment.
In a meeting with the Swedish leader last month, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the country “can count on the EU” if Russia attacks.
Ryan reported from Washington.