September 26, 2023

‘A new era begins’ – Finland to formally seek NATO membership

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L) met Finland's President Sauli Niinisto last year

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L) met Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto last year – Copyright AFP Yasuyoshi CHIBA

Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto confirmed on Sunday that his country would apply for membership in the NATO military alliance, in a historic policy shift prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

During a joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin made the announcement that Finland would seek membership in NATO, reports the Associated Press.

 “Today, we, the president and the government’s foreign policy committee, have together decided that Finland … will apply for NATO membership,” Niinisto told reporters. “This is a historic day. A new era begins,” Niinisto said.

The previously neutral Nordic country shares a 1,300 km (800 miles) long border with Russia, reports Reuters. Moscow has said it would be a mistake for Helsinki to join the 30-strong transatlantic alliance and harm bilateral ties.

The announcement came as top diplomats from the 30 NATO member states met in Berlin to discuss providing further support to Ukraine and moves by Finland, Sweden, and others to join NATO in the face of threats from Russia.

“Russia’s war in Ukraine is not going as Moscow had planned,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said by video link as he recovers from a COVID-19 infection.” “They failed to take Kyiv. They are pulling back from around Kharkiv. Their major offensive in Donbas has stalled. Russia is not achieving its strategic objectives.”

“Ukraine can win this war,” he said, adding that NATO must continue to step up its military support to the country.

Sweden moves closer to joining NATO

Switzerland’s long stance on remaining neutral is about to face its biggest test in decades, with the defense ministry tilting closer to Western military powers in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The defense ministry is drawing up a report on security options that include joint military exercises with NATO countries and “backfilling” munitions, Paelvi Pulli, head of security policy at the Swiss defense ministry told Reuters.

“Ultimately, there could be changes in the way neutrality is interpreted,” Pulli said in an interview last week. On a trip to Washington this week, Defence Minister Viola Amherd said Switzerland should work more closely with the U.S.-led military alliance, but not join it, Swiss media reported.

Moving so much closer to the alliance would mark a departure from the carefully nurtured tradition of not taking sides that its supporters say helped Switzerland prosper peacefully and maintain a special role as an intermediary, including during the West’s standoff with the Soviet Union.