Finland reveals timeline of possible NATO accession
The Finnish government will provide the country’s parliament with a review of possible NATO accession by the middle of this month, the country’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said.
Moscow’s attack on Ukraine has prompted Finland, which has a common border with Russia, to intensify the discussions on potential benefits of joining the military alliance. Haavisto revealed that Finland’s leaders have already discussed the matter with “almost all” NATO members, and he “almost daily” talks about it with neighboring Sweden which is also considering joining the bloc.
In an interview with Reuters, published on Monday, Haavisto said that Finland needs to be prepared for retaliation from Russia and “also listen to how NATO countries would react.”
“We don’t need to make any quick decisions on our own defense, but certainly a possible membership application could lead to making us a target of interference or hybrid actions,” the foreign minister explained.
On Saturday, the country’s prime minister Sanna Marin, speaking during a Social Democratic Party delegates’ gathering, said that Russia’s offensive in Ukraine had undermined trust between Helsinki and Moscow in an “irreversible” way.
“Russia is not the neighbor we thought it was,” she said.
Admitting that both joining and not joining NATO are “choices that have consequences,”
the prime minister said that a decision should be made “thoroughly but quickly” this spring.
Recent polls in both Finland and Sweden show that the conflict in Ukraine has significantly changed public opinion from previous years with the majority of respondents now in support of joining NATO. According to this month’s poll by Yle, a record-high 62% of the Finnish population would like to see their country in the western military alliance. The surveys prompted the Finnish President Sauli Niinisto to say that with such a level of support for NATO membership there would be no need for a referendum.
According to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, both countries have good chances of joining the bloc “in a relatively quick way.”
“Of course, it’s for them to decide but, if they apply, I expect that they will be very much welcomed by all 30 allies and that we will find ways to do that in a relatively quick way to take them into the alliance if they so want,” he told CNN on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Russia has warned Finland and Sweden against NATO membership.
“It is obvious that Finland and Sweden joining NATO, which is a military organization in the first place, would have serious military and political consequences requiring us to revise the entire range of relations with these countries and take retaliatory measures,” Russian Foreign Ministry Second European Department Director Sergei Belyayev told Interfax news agency in March.
Russia launched its offensive following Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements signed in 2014, and Russia’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics in Donetsk and Lugansk. The German and French brokered protocols had been designed to regularize the status of those regions within the Ukrainian state.
Russia has now demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.