After 77 years of neutrality, largely imposed under the duress of its eastern neighbour, back in 1945 known as the Soviet Union, Finland is finally on edge of taking the historic step to join a military alliance.
Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin jointly announced on Thursday, May 12, their country’s intention to join NATO. “Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay,” the country’s leaders told journalists during a press conference. “We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days.” The final decision will be taken during a vote held on Monday, but the initiative enjoys massive popular support, with 75 percent of Finns in favour.
During the Cold War, Finland was engaged in a careful balancing pact between the West and the communist bloc, maintaining neutrality and staying out of NATO. Adopting such neutral status as a prerequisite for Moscow to pledge to leave the country in peace, after its failed attempts to dominate it during World War Two, which nonetheless resulted in some loss of Finnish territory. Finland also had to take into account the ominous presence of the Soviet Union when conducting its foreign policy. The country did not even join the European Union until 1995, which it did with Sweden.
But following Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, the Finns, as well as their Swedish neighbours, decided to ditch their neutral status and apply for membership in the alliance to seek greater security under its auspices. The Kremlin attempted to dissuade the two Nordic nations by making threats against them, but this only appears to have strengthened the Finns and the Swedes resolve. President Niinisto said so himself the day before formally announcing Finland will apply to join NATO by saying “My response would be that you caused this. Look at the mirror.”
Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary-General of NATO said that “[s]hould Finland decide to apply, they would be warmly welcomed into NATO, and the accession process would be smooth and swift.” He lauded Finland as “one of NATO’s closest partners, a mature democracy, a member of the European Union, and an important contributor to Euro-Atlantic security.”
John Kirby, the spokesperson for the Pentagon, called Finland’s entry into NATO “historic”. He also said that it would not be difficult to integrate the country into the military alliance. Finland indeed boasts a modern, well-equipped, and well-trained military. The country has a population of 5.5 million people, and a standing army of only 21,500, but thanks to compulsory military service, it can rapidly increase its wartime strength to 280,000 personnel using the 900,000 people it has in reserve.
Numerous other countries have expressed their satisfaction over Finland’s move. Those that are already members of the alliance, such as Poland and Lithuania, expressed the same sentiment as Secretary Stoltenberg, believing that Finland’s NATO membership will increase regional security. Danish PM Mette Frederiksen said that Denmark would push for a swift acceptance of Sweden into the alliance.
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy called President Niinisto to commend Finland on its decision.
Following its failure to scare the Finns into maintaining their neutral status, the Kremlin has swiftly reacted. Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, who was asked whether he believes Finland joining the alliance is a direct threat to Russia, had responded: “Definitely. NATO expansion does not make our continent more stable and secure.” He added that the event is a reason for “corresponding symmetrical responses on our side,” although what that could mean is unclear.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has also made more or less explicit threats. “Finland joining NATO is a radical change in the country’s foreign policy,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. “Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps, both of a military-technical and other nature, to stop threats to its national security arising,” he added.
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