In the joint statement, Niinistö and Marin said: “NATO membership will enhance Finland’s security. As a NATO member, Finland will strengthen the entire defense alliance. Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay. We hope that national steps are still necessary to achieve this decision will be taken.” quickly within the next few days.”
Later on Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the Finnish statement represented a “fundamental change in the country’s foreign policy” and warned against countermeasures.
“Helsinki should be aware of the responsibility and consequences of such a move,” the ministry said.
The ministry said Finland’s possible entry into NATO would seriously harm the Russian-Finnish bilateral relations, which maintain stability and security in the northern European region.
She added that “Russia will have to take retaliatory steps, military, technical and otherwise, in order to stop the threats to its national security that arise in this regard.”
Also on Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Finland’s entry into the alliance would not contribute to greater security.
“As we have said many times before, NATO expansion does not make the world more stable and secure,” Peskov told reporters. He added that Russia’s response would depend on NATO activity near its borders.
“It will depend on what this expansion process entails, how close we are to our borders, how close the military infrastructure is,” Peskov said.
The spokesman added that Russia will analyze the situation with Finland’s accession to NATO and will take the necessary measures to ensure its security.
As Peskov told reporters on a regular conference call: “Everyone wants to avoid a direct clash between Russia and NATO: both Russia and NATO, and most importantly, Washington.” But he added that Russia would be ready to provide the “most decisive response” to those who would try to take part in the country’s “special military operation” in Ukraine – the Kremlin’s official euphemism for Russia’s war there.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, popular support for joining NATO in Finland has jumped from around 30% to nearly 80% in some opinion polls.
The move would require the approval of the Finnish parliament and the removal of any other domestic legislative hurdles, but NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the country would be “warmly welcomed” into the alliance if it applied for membership.
“I welcome the joint statement made by President Niinisto and Prime Minister Marin on supporting the NATO membership application without delay,” Stoltenberg said Thursday, according to his office.
“This is a sovereign decision by Finland, and NATO fully respects it. If Finland decides to apply, they will be warmly welcomed into NATO, and the accession process will be smooth and fast. Finland is one of NATO’s closest partners, a mature democracy, a member of the European Union and an important contributor to the Euro-Atlantic Security”.
The NATO chief said he agreed, with Niinistö and Marin, that “NATO membership will enhance the security of both NATO and Finland.”
It is also expected that Sweden, Finland’s neighbor to the west, will soon announce its intention to join the alliance through a similar process.
Russia has previously warned both countries against joining NATO, saying there would be consequences.
European diplomats and security officials widely assume that Finland can join the alliance quickly once negotiations begin, as it has been buying compatible military hardware with its Western allies, including the United States, for decades and already meeting many membership criteria.
Finland’s accession to NATO will have both practical and symbolic consequences for Russia and the Western alliance.
Since the end of World War II, Finland has been militarily unaligned and nominally neutral In order to avoid provoking Russia. It has at times condoned the Kremlin’s security concerns and tried to maintain good business relations.
However, the war in Ukraine has changed the calculus enough that joining NATO now appears to be the best way forward, regardless of Russia’s reaction.
European defense officials who spoke to CNN in recent months assume that NATO countries will offer some guarantees about Finland’s security during the accession process, in case Russia retaliates before it formally joins.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced, on Wednesday, new security agreements with Finland and Sweden, pledging assistance to either country if one of them is attacked.
Historically, Finland has had high defense spending and still has a conscription policy, in which all adult men are liable to be called up for military service. It is widely accepted among NATO officials that Finland’s entry into the alliance would be a major boost in the face of Russian aggression because of how seriously the country has historically taken its security.
It also shares more than 800 miles of border with Russia, which is significant as the Kremlin stated before the invasion of Ukraine that it wanted to see NATO roll back its borders to where they were in the 1990s.
Alternatively, President Vladimir Putin’s maneuvering could lead to a stronger NATO rapprochement.
Anna Chernova, Niamh Kennedy, Ulyana Pavlova, Radina Zhigova and CNN’s James Frater contributed to this report.
“Infuriatingly humble analyst. Bacon maven. Proud food specialist. Certified reader. Avid writer. Zombie advocate. Incurable problem solver.”