Finnish government officials said Wednesday they will decide within weeks whether to join NATO, while Sweden initiated a comprehensive review of security options that could also result in NATO membership.
The twin developments are sure to anger the Kremlin, which has warned both nations against joining the transatlantic bloc. Limiting NATO expansion has been a key goal of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military campaign in Ukraine, but instead it looks as if Mr. Putin’s war could lead to an expansion of the 30-member alliance.
Finnish leaders, who have long declined to join the Western alliance formally for fear of angering the Kremlin, say they will make a decision on NATO membership well before the alliance’s June summit in Madrid. They also made crystal clear that Russia‘s invasion of Ukraine is the driving force behind the accelerated timeline.
“The war started by Russia endangers security and stability in [all of] Europe,” Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said Wednesday as the government presented a report on the recent changes to Finland’s security environment.
“Russia’s attack on Ukraine will have a long-lasting impact on our own security environment. Trust in Russia has plummeted,” he said.
Meanwhile, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said her country has initiated its own security review, one that is expected to be completed by May 31. She said her country will have “a very close dialogue and have a very straightforward and honest discussion” with Finland as each country weighs NATO membership.
SEE ALSO: Selection of new Russian commander is a sign of Ukraine campaign woes, UK officials say
Public opinion in both countries, which has long been split on NATO, has surged in favor of membership as the Ukrainian invasion has played out.
Finland shares an 833-mile border with Russia, meaning that NATO membership would dramatically enhance the alliance’s presence on Russia‘s doorstep. Estonia and Latvia, both of which also border Russia, are already NATO members.
Moscow has made no secret of its desire to keep Finland out of NATO.
“We regard the Finnish government’s commitment to a military non-alignment policy as an important factor in ensuring security and stability in northern Europe,” Russia‘s Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a Twitter post in February. “Finland’s accession to @NATO would have serious military and political repercussions.”
— This article is based in part on wire-service reports