Finland supports joining NATO “as soon as possible” despite Putin’s threats | International
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The President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, and the Prime Minister of the Nordic country, Sanna Marin, issued a joint statement on Thursday in which they urge to request entry into the Atlantic Alliance. “Finland must apply for NATO membership as soon as possible,” the statement said. On Monday the debate on this matter will begin in the Finnish Parliament; Most of the formations have already publicly announced that they will be in favor, including some members of the Green League, not in favor so far of joining. Parliament’s Defense Committee recommended this week integration into the military bloc, considering it the best option to guarantee national security. The position of President Niinistö, of the liberal National Coalition party, is of decisive importance, since in Finland the head of state directs the country’s foreign policy in cooperation with the government. On Saturday, the Prime Minister’s Finnish Social Democratic Party – whose traditional position has been against joining the Alliance – is expected to announce its final position.
“We trust that in the next few days the necessary steps will be taken at the national level so that the process can be formalized,” reads the statement released this Thursday by Niinistö and Marin. “Being a member of NATO would strengthen Finland’s security. As a member of NATO, Finland would also strengthen the Alliance as a whole. Finland must be a candidate for accession without delay”, adds the text.
Once the Finnish Parliament expresses its interest in joining NATO, it will be NATO that will have to take the next steps. According to article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty, the applicant country must be invited by the military organization to start the accession dialogue. That invitation, which could arrive at the end of June at the Alliance summit, must be sent by consensus of all members once the candidate country has expressed its intention to start the procedures for entry. Sources consulted by Reuters indicate that the ratification process could last around a year, and that during this period NATO’s military presence in the Baltic and northern Europe could be reinforced.
The Finnish Foreign Minister, Pekka Haavisto, confirmed hours after the statement that the parliamentary debate on accession will begin in the Nordic country next Monday. Haavisto, a member of the Green League, explained that the Executive will present a report to Parliament in which it will be urged to start the process. “It is a historic day in Finland”, said the minister, who estimates that the debate could last several days because “more than a hundred deputies” will want to intervene. The Finnish politician has ruled out the option of holding a referendum: “The latest polls indisputably show that the vast majority of the population is in favor of membership.”
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Russia’s warnings to Finland (5.5 million inhabitants) not to apply for this income have had the opposite effect. On February 25, just one day after the start of the invasion of Ukraine, Maria Zajárova, the Kremlin’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, threatened Helsinki and Stockholm with “serious political and military consequences” if they decided to join the Alliance. Since then, the intimidating notices have been constant. A survey broadcast on Monday by the Nordic country’s public broadcaster indicates that 76% of citizens are in favor of joining the Atlantic Alliance, and only 12% reject entry into the military bloc. At the end of last year, less than 20% of Finns were in favor of applying to join NATO.
The radical change in public opinion has also been reflected in the country’s political class. In an interview with this newspaper at the end of January, a little over 100 days ago, the Social Democrat Marin – who is at the head of a five-party coalition – stressed that joining the Alliance was not a possibility that was contemplated in the short term. .
Finland’s entry into the organization would definitively put an end to the policy of neutrality that has prevailed in the Nordic country since the beginning of the Cold War. After fighting in two wars against the Soviet Union, —after which Finland had to give up part of its territory—, during World War II, Moscow forced Helsinki to sign a cooperation agreement that in practice meant that Finnish politicians they were controlled and conditioned by the neighboring country for decades. After the dissolution of the USSR, the pact expired in 1992 and three years later Finland – together with Sweden and Austria – joined the EU. Helsinki considers that political neutrality ended with joining the community club. And even more so since 2009, when the Lisbon Treaty entered into force, introducing the mutual defense clause (article 42.7). Finland has reiterated these years that it was not a neutral country, but “not militarily aligned”.
Finland’s entry into NATO would mean that the border between the allies and Russia would become more than twice as long as it is today; The 1,360 kilometers of border that the Nordic country shares with Russia would be added to the slightly more than 1,200 that Poland, Norway, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania now have.
The fear of aggression from Russia – from which Finland became independent in 1917 – never completely dissipated in the Nordic country. Proof of this is that almost a million Finns are reservists, or the vast network of facilities designed to be converted into bomb shelters. The Finnish army has a powerful air force —in December it agreed to purchase 64 units of the most modern fighter in the world (the F-35) from the United States— and its military capacity is superior to that of neighboring Sweden, which after the end of the Cold War undertook a process of gradual demilitarization that came to a halt after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The first step taken by Finland puts more pressure on Sweden, where the debate is accelerating to reach a firm position on joining the Alliance as soon as possible. In the Scandinavian country there has also been a profound change in public opinion caused by Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine, but not so dizzying: an April poll shows that 57% of citizens are in favor of accession, compared to to just over 25% who supported him at the end of last year. The Swedish Social Democratic Party will also announce its position next Sunday, after decades in which it has flatly rejected the option of joining the transatlantic organization. On Tuesday, President Niinistö is scheduled to travel to Stockholm. Sweden and Finland are the only two Nordic countries that are not yet part of the Alliance.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has reiterated in recent months that both Finland and Sweden are guaranteed entry if they decide to do so. The Alliance could formally invite both countries to the next summit to be held in Madrid on June 29 and 30. Even so, the accession would have to be ratified by the Parliaments of the 30 member countries. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has reacted to Niinistö and Marin’s statement with a tweet in which he assures that Denmark “will do everything possible to make the accession process of Finland as fast as possible”.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson traveled to Stockholm and Helsinki on Wednesday to sign agreements on mutual security guarantees, thus trying to dispel any doubts that may arise in Sweden and Finland about a situation of vulnerability in which he would find himself during the months that the ratification process will last. The United States has also indicated that in the event that the two Nordic countries apply for admission, preventive measures will have to be taken to guarantee their security until accession becomes effective. The Finnish foreign minister, who will participate in a meeting of foreign ministers of NATO members in Berlin on Saturday, has stressed that he has also received certain guarantees from France, Germany and Turkey. And from Spain: “My good friend the minister [de Exteriores] José Manuel Albares told me that of course Finland had its security guaranteed through article 42.7 [del Tratado de Lisboa, que establece la cláusula de defensa de mutua de la UE]”.
During the press conference that Niinistö and Johnson offered on Wednesday in Helsinki, the Finnish president – one of the European leaders who has had the most contact in recent years with the Russian president – was asked if Finland’s entry into NATO could be considered by Moscow as a provocation. “You [Putin] You are the one who caused all this. Look in the mirror, ”she sentenced.
The relationship between Finland and NATO had already grown remarkably close in the last decade, especially after the annexation of Crimea. Since then, Finnish representatives have frequently attended Alliance summits and soldiers of the Finnish Armed Forces have participated in military exercises organized by the transatlantic bloc.
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