San Francisco Chronicle
Finland, Sweden confirm plans to join NATO
BERLIN — Finland’s government declared a “new era” is underway as it inches closer to seeking NATO membership, hours before Sweden’s governing party on Sunday backed a plan to join the trans-Atlantic alliance amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Russia has long bristled about NATO moving closer to its borders, so the developments will be sure to further anger Moscow. President Vladimir Putin has already warned his Finnish counterpart on Saturday that relations would be “negatively affected.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Sunday the process for Finland and Sweden to join could be very quick. He also didn’t expect Turkey to hold up the process.
Speaking after top diplomats from the alliance’s 30 member states met in Berlin, Stoltenberg also expressed his hope that Ukraine could win the war as Russian military advances appear to be faltering.
In Finland, President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin confirmed earlier statements that their country would seek membership in NATO during a joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki. The Nordic country, which was nonaligned before changing its stance on NATO, shares a long border with Russia.
“This is a historic day. A new era begins,” Niinisto said.
The Finnish Parliament is expected to endorse the decision in the coming days. A formal membership application will then be submitted to NATO headquarters in Brussels, most likely at some point next week.
Sweden, also nonaligned, moved a step closer to applying for NATO membership after the governing Social Democratic party met Sunday and backed joining the trans-Atlantic alliance.
The plan to join the alliance will be discussed in Sweden’s parliament on Monday, and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson’s Cabinet will make an announcement later that day.
The decision by the Social Democrats breaks with the party’s long-standing position that Sweden must remain nonaligned and means there’s a clear majority for NATO membership in Parliament.
Sweden has not been a member of a military alliance since the Napoleonic Wars. Finland adopted neutrality after being defeated by the Red Army in World War II and losing about 10% of its territory.
“Our 200-year-long standing policy of military nonalignment has served Sweden well,” Andersson said during a news conference in Stockholm late Sunday. “But the issue at hand is whether military nonalignment will keep serving us well?”
“We’re now facing a fundamentally changed security environment in Europe.”
Finland and Sweden abandoned traditional neutrality by joining the European Union in 1995.
Public opinion in both countries was firmly against joining NATO until the Russian invasion on Ukraine on Feb. 24, when support for membership surged almost overnight, first in Finland and later in Sweden.
The ex-Soviet republic of Georgia’s bid to join NATO is again being discussed despite dire warnings from Moscow about the consequences. Both countries fought a brief war in 2008 over Georgia’s breakaway
region of South Ossetia.