Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin (L) and Finland's President Sauli Niinisto give a press conference to announce that Finland will apply for NATO membership at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki. (Photo: AFP)
HELSINKI: Finland formally announced Sunday that it intends to apply for membership into the Western NATO military alliance, ignoring Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warning that the move would “negatively affect” peaceful relations between the neighboring countries.
President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced the NATO membership bid at the presidential palace in Helsinki.
“This is a historic day,” Niinisto said. “A new era begins.”
Finland’s announcement that it is seeking entry into the 30-member U.S.-dominated military alliance formed in the aftermath of World War II had been expected in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine February 24 and continuing offensive.
Finland’s neighbor to the west, Sweden, is also expected to seek entry into the alliance, ending two centuries of military non-alignment. Sweden’s governing party on Sunday dropped its opposition to joining NATO.
The two Nordic countries’ NATO applications will likely move swiftly, with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg saying in recent days that they will be welcomed.
The Kremlin’s press service said that Putin, in a phone conversation with Niinisto on Saturday, warned the Finnish leader that its abandonment “of its traditional policy of military neutrality would be an error since there are no threats to Finland’s security.”
“Such a change in the country’s foreign policy could negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations, which had been built in the spirit of good neighborliness and partnership for many years, and were mutually beneficial,” the statement added.
Niinisto told CNN’s “State of the Union” show that his phone conversation with Putin was businesslike. “The surprise was that he took it so calmly,” Niinisto said of Finland’s move to join NATO.
Finland’s 1,300-kilometer border with Russia would be the longest of any of the NATO countries.