The President and Prime Minister of Finland support joining NATO “as soon as possible” | International

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The president of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, this Wednesday in Helsinki.POOL (REUTERS)

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 accession debate will begin in the Finnish Parliament; most formations have already publicly announced that they will be in favor, including some members of the Green League. Parliament’s Defense Committee recommended this week joining the military bloc, considering it the best option to guarantee national security. The position of President Niinistö is of decisive importance, since in Finland the president directs the country’s foreign policy in cooperation with the government. This Saturday the Finnish Social Democratic Party – whose traditional position has been against joining the Alliance – is expected to announce its final position.

Russia’s warnings to Finland (population 5.5 million) not to apply for NATO membership have had the opposite effect. On February 25, just one day after the start of the brutal attack on Ukraine, Maria Zajárova, the Foreign Affairs spokeswoman in the Putin government, threatened Helsinki and Stockholm with “serious political and military consequences” if they decided to join the Alliance. Since then, the intimidating warnings from the Kremlin have been constant. A survey released 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 joining 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 Finnish 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. .

The adhesion of the Nordic country to the Alliance 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 two wars against the Soviet Union during World War II, after which Finland had to give up part of its territory, Moscow forced Helsinki to sign a cooperation agreement that in practice meant that Finnish politicians 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 that separate the Nordic country from Russian territory would be added to the slightly more than 1,200 that there are now on the borders of Poland, Norway, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

The fear of possible 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.

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This Thursday’s announcement from Finland puts more pressure on Sweden, where events are moving at full speed 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 the brutal aggression against Ukraine, but not so dizzying: an April poll shows that 57% of citizens are in favor of accession, compared to little more than 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.

Alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has made it clear in recent months that both Finland and Sweden are guaranteed entry should they decide to do so. The process, however, will take a few months. 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.

The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, traveled to Stockholm and Helsinki on Wednesday to sign mutual security guarantee agreements, thus trying to dispel any doubts that may arise in Sweden and Finland regarding 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.

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