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Finnish President urges Finland to apply for NATO membership ‘without delay’

A powerful message stressing the urgency of Finland joining NATO has come from the country’s two top politicians – President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin.

Both statesmen said in one voice, on Thursday, that Finland must apply to join the NATO military alliance “without delay”.

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

Finland, sharing a 1,300 km (810 mile) border and a difficult past with Russia, has gradually stepped up its cooperation with NATO as a partner since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

But it was only when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unfolded that Helsinki set its sights on NATO membership in earnest. Finns’ take on joining NATO also changed after Russia initiated what it dubbed a “special operation” in Ukraine.

Finnish public support for NATO accession has broken records over recent months, with the latest poll by public broadcaster YLE showing 76 percent of Finns in favour and only 12 percent against, while support for membership used to linger at only around 25 percent for years prior to the war in Ukraine.

The Russian aggression has changed Finns’ outlook on Finland’s military non-alignment, making them perceive friendly relations with Russia as an outdated policy.

Finland had fought two wars with Russia during WWII. Although it managed to push away the invaders, the subsequent peace agreement cut Finland’s territory by about 10 percent.

Sweden to hop on the wagon?

Sweden, sharing a maritime border with Russia, may be encouraged by Finland’s turn to NATO and join the Alliance itself.

It is on Sunday that Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats will decide whether to overturn decades of opposition to NATO membership. If the decision is made in favour of joining NATO, it would almost certainly lead to Sweden also asking to join the 30-nation alliance.

The ever-bolder glances Finland and Sweden have been giving NATO irritated Russia, prompting it to issue repeated warnings against joining the Alliance. On March 12 Russia’s MFA said “there will be serious military and political consequences” if Finland and Sweden do.

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