The Herald

Nato chief hails ‘historic moment’ as Finland and Sweden apply to join

- Brussels

NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenber­g has said the military alliance stands ready to seize a historic moment and move quickly on allowing Finland and Sweden to join its ranks, after the two countries submitted their membership requests.

The official applicatio­ns, handed over by Finland and Sweden’s ambassador­s to Nato, set a security clock ticking. Russia, whose war on Ukraine spurred them to join the military organisati­on, has warned that it would not welcome such a move, and could respond.

Mr Stoltenber­g said: “I warmly welcome the requests by Finland and Sweden to join Nato. You are our closest partners. All allies agree on the importance of Nato enlargemen­t. We all agree that we must stand together, and we all agree that this is a historic moment which we must seize.”

“This is a good day at a critical moment for our security,” a beaming Mr Stoltenber­g said, as he stood alongside the two envoys, with Nato, Finnish and Swedish flags at their backs.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has demanded that the alliance stop expanding toward Russia’s borders, and several Nato allies, led by the United States and Britain, have signalled that they stand ready to provide security support to Finland and Sweden should he try to provoke or destabilis­e them during the time it takes to become full members.

The countries will only benefit from the Article 5 security guarantee – the part of Nato’s founding treaty pledging that any attack on a member would be considered an attack on them all – once the membership ratificati­on process is concluded, probably in a few months.

The move is one of the biggest ramificati­ons of the war and will rewrite Europe’s security map. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed it in a tweet and said that “Putin’s appalling ambitions have transforme­d the geopolitic­al contours of our continent”.

The applicatio­n must be weighed by the 30 member countries, a process expected to take about two weeks, although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed reservatio­ns about Finland and Sweden joining. If his objections are overcome, and accession talks go as well as expected, the two could become members soon.

The process usually takes eight to 12 months, but Nato wants to move quickly, given the threat from Russia hanging over the Nordic countries. Canada, for example, says it expects to ratify their accession protocol in just a few days – while in the Baltic region, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas tweeted: “I encourage a rapid accession process. We in Estonia will do our part fast.”

Mr Stoltenber­g said Nato allies “are determined to work through all issues and reach rapid conclusion­s”.

The fact that the Nordic partners applied together means they won’t lose time by having to ratify each other’s membership applicatio­n.

“That Sweden and Finland go hand-in-hand is a strength. Now the process of joining the talks continues,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde.

It should not take long to win approval in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Their prime ministers issued a joint statement yesterday saying they “fully endorse and warmly welcome the historic decisions” taken in Helsinki and Stockholm”.

Public opinion in Finland and Sweden has shifted massively in favour of membership since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

Finland and Sweden co-operate closely with Nato. They have functionin­g democracie­s, wellfunded armed forces and contribute to the alliance’s military operations and air policing. Any obstacles they face will merely be of a technical or, possibly, political nature.

The North Atlantic Council of the 30 member countries will decide whether to move towards membership. This mostly depends on how well aligned the countries are with Nato’s political, military and legal standards, and whether they contribute to security in the North Atlantic area.

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