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Finland to apply for NATO membership, relinquishing decades of neutrality despite Russian threats of retaliation

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The decision was announced at a joint news conference Sunday with President Sauli Niinist and Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who said the measure must be ratified by the country’s parliament. before Finland can formally apply for NATO membership.

“We hope the parliament will confirm the decision to apply for NATO membership,” Marin told a news conference in Helsinki on Sunday. “In the coming days. It will be based on a strong mandate, with the President of the Republic. We have been in close contact with the governments of NATO member countries and NATO itself.”

“We are close partners of NATO, but it is a historic decision that we will join NATO and we hope to make decisions together,” she added.

The move would bring the US-led military alliance to Finland’s 830-mile border with Russia, but it could take months to finalize as the legislatures of the current 30 members have to approve new applicants.

He also risks provoking the anger of Russia, whose president Vladimir Putin told his Finnish counterpart Saul Niinist on Saturday that abandoning military neutrality and joining the bloc would be a “mistake,” according to a Kremlin statement. On Saturday, Russia cut off electricity supplies to the Nordic country after problems receiving payments.

Since the end of World War II, during which Finland was occupied by the Soviet Union, the country has been militarily disengaged and nominally neutral to avoid provocation by Russia. It has sometimes satisfied the Kremlin’s security concerns and has tried to maintain good trade relations.

The invasion of Ukraine has changed this calculation.

What you need to know about Finland, Sweden and NATO

On Saturday, Niinist called on Putin to inform Putin of Finland’s intentions to join the bloc, saying that “Russian demands at the end of 2021 aimed at preventing countries from joining NATO and the massive invasion of Russia in “Ukraine in February 2022 have changed Finland’s security environment.” in a statement from the office of the Finnish president.

Prime Minister Marin reiterated the sentiment on Sunday, telling reporters that in relation to a nuclear threat, “we would not make these decisions we are making now if we did not think they were boosting our strength or security. So “Of course we believe these are the right decisions and they will improve our national security.”

Sweden has expressed similar disappointments and is also expected to make a similar move to join NATO.

Both countries already meet many of the criteria for NATO membership, which include a functioning democratic political system based on a market economy; fair treatment of the minority population; commitment to resolving conflicts peacefully; the ability and willingness to make a military contribution to NATO operations; and commitment to democratic civil-military relations and institutions.

Turkey, a NATO member that has emerged as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, has expressed reservations about Finland and Sweden’s integration into the alliance. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that he was not looking “positively” at Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership, accusing both circles of harboring Kurdish “terrorist organizations”.

Finnish President Niinister said he was “confused” by Erdogan’s skepticism, saying that during a telephone conversation with Erdogan a month ago, the Turkish president seemed “favorable” to Finland’s membership in the bloc.

“I thanked him and he was very pleased to receive my fax. So you have to understand that I’m a little confused,” he said.

“I think what we need now is a very clear answer. I am prepared to have a new discussion with President Erdogan about the problems he has raised,” he added.

He acknowledged that any NATO member could “block the process” so it was “important” to maintain “good contacts” with all, adding that Finland wants to keep its border with Russia calm.

Putin sees the alliance as a shield aimed at Russia, despite the fact that the bloc had spent most of the post-Soviet years focusing on issues such as terrorism and peacekeeping.

Before Putin invaded Ukraine, he made clear his belief that NATO was very close to Russia and that it had to strip back to its 1990s borders, before some countries that were either neighbors to Russia or formerly -Soviet states to join the military alliance.

Ukraine’s desire to join the alliance and its status as a NATO partner – seen as a step on the path to full full membership – was one of many complaints Putin mentioned in an attempt to justify the occupation. of his country to his neighbor.

The irony is that the war in Ukraine has, in fact, given NATO a new purpose.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, public support for NATO membership in Finland has risen from about 30% to almost 80% in some polls. Most Swedes also approve of their country’s membership in the alliance, according to opinion polls there.

Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s ambassador to the European Union, told Sky News on Thursday that if Finland joins the bloc, “this will require some technical military measures such as improving or increasing the level of defense preparations along the Finnish border.”

CNN Joshua Berlinger, Nic Robertson and Chris Liakos contributed to this piece.

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