Finland will apply for Nato membership in the coming days as a way of maximising its security, the Nordic country’s president and prime minister said on Sunday, in a move that would more than double Nato’s border with Russia and change the geopolitics of Europe.
“This is a historic day. A new era starts,” Finnish president Sauli Niinistö said at a press conference, as Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, another non-Nato member that shares a border with Russia, upturned decades of security thinking in Helsinki.
Finland’s prime minister Sanna Marin said: “We cannot trust any more that there will be a peaceful future next to Russia on our own. That’s why we’re making the decision to join Nato: it’s an act of peace, to make sure there will never again be a war in Finland in the future.”
Later on Sunday Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats will announce its decision on whether to jettison 200 years of military non-alignment and also submit an application.
However Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday came out against the two Nordic countries joining Nato, saying he could not take a “positive view” of the two nations’ potential bids for membership.
Foreign ministers from several Nato countries expressed optimism that Turkey would change its mind over their accession to the western defence alliance and that the two countries could swiftly join.
“We hope this situation will be resolved through direct dialogue between the three countries,” Romanian foreign minister Bogdan Auresc said on Sunday ahead of consultations with Nato counterparts in Berlin.
Both Finland’s president and prime minister downplayed fears that Turkey could jeopardise its Nato bid. Niinistö said he was “a bit confused” after he had a conversation with Erdoğan in which the Turkish president had told him: “We will assess it favourably”.
Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign minister, said he was “confident” that Turkey would relent. “But of course Turkey is sometimes difficult, and we, too, are sometimes difficult,” he said.
Public opinion has swung massively in favour of Nato membership in both Finland and Sweden since Russia began its full-scale war against Ukraine in February.
Swedish and Finnish membership of Nato would transform the security situation in northern Europe and make the alliance’s defence of the Baltic countries easier. It would also more than double Nato’s border with Russia, which has threatened “serious military and political consequences” should either country join the alliance. The Finnish government’s formal decision to apply will need to be approved by parliament, which meets on Monday.
Nato foreign ministers will spend Sunday discussing the war in Ukraine and how they can step up aid to the authorities in Kyiv. They will also discuss Nato’s new strategic concept ahead of a summit of the alliance in Madrid in June. This will define the security challenges facing Nato and outline the political and military tasks it will carry out to address them.
Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s foreign minister, said there should be no delay in bringing Sweden and Finland into Nato. “There should be no . . . grey zone,” she said before the informal meeting, adding that it was her hope that the two countries can “join very quickly”.
Erdoğan, as the rationale for his objection, cited Sweden and Finland’s support for the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) which has waged a decades-long armed insurgency against the Turkish state. It is classified as a terrorist organisation by Ankara, the US and the EU. Erdoğan said Scandinavian countries were “like some kind of guest house for terrorist organisations”.
But Turkey appears to be alone in taking this stance, with most Nato members expressing strong support for Finland and Sweden’s accession.
Niinistö will make a state visit to Sweden early next week during which the two countries could jointly send their Nato applications.
The Swedish and Finnish foreign ministers joined their Nato colleagues at a dinner in Berlin on Saturday to discuss their membership bid.
“If they decide to seek membership I’m confident that allies will look constructively and positively at their membership of this alliance,” said Mircea Geoană, Nato’s deputy secretary-general.
He described the two countries as “vibrant democracies” with “impeccable” records on the rule of law and “strong militaries” that were “very interoperable with the rest of Nato”.
Baerbock said that many countries had never wanted to join the defence pact “but now they’re being pushed into Nato” by Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine.
The German government would ensure “swift ratification” of Swedish and Finnish membership of Nato, she added. “This can’t be a long drawn-out process,” she said, insisting that the two countries’ accession would “make us even stronger”.
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