Finland’s president has said the country needs to apply to NATO “without delay” as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues.
Sauli Niinisto made the announcement as he said the country, which shares an 810-mile border and a difficult past with Russia, must apply for membership to the organisation.
In a joint statement with the country’s prime minister Sanna Marin, they said: “We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days.
“Now that the moment of decision-making is near, we state our equal views, also for information to the parliamentary groups and parties.
“NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defence alliance.
“Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay.”
Since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Finland has increased its co-operation with NATO as one of its “partner” nations.
But it has not actually joined in order to maintain good relations with its eastern neighbour.
The government and parliament in Finland is expected to give approval to the decision shortly.
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The announcement by president Sauli Niinisto and prime minister Sanna Marin means Finland is virtually certain to seek NATO membership, though a few steps remain before the application process can begin.
Neighbouring Sweden is expected to decide on joining NATO in the coming days.
Last month, Mr Niinisto – who heads foreign policy in the country in co-operation with the government – told newspaper Ilta-Sanomat: “If it happens as it looks likely that Finland and Sweden will join (NATO), then it will create a new kind of North for us, one that is responsible, stable and strong.”
Support for joining NATO in the country has changed rapidly since Russia launched its so-called “special operation” in Ukraine – with the latest poll by public broadcaster YLE showing 76% of Finns in favour and only 12% against.
It comes after the UK agreed defence pacts with both Finland and Sweden.
RUSSIA’S WAR IN UKRAINE TRIGGERS SEISMIC SHIFT IN EUROPE’S SECURITY
A new security chapter is opening in Europe – one that will require governments not just to say their top priority is the defence of their nation but to prove it with actions and investment.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has triggered this seismic shift, doing more to galvanise the NATO defence alliance than any event since its foundation more than 70 years ago – including through the entirety of the Cold War.
It is why two, historically neutral European countries, Finland and Sweden, look set to request membership to the club in defiance of warnings from Moscow – a stunning change in foreign and defence policy.
Finland’s leaders on Thursday said their country should apply “without delay”.
It was an eagerly-awaited statement of intent that signals a formal application could come within days.
The altered landscape also explains why the UK has just signed new security pacts with both Nordic states, guaranteeing to come to their defence should either be attacked.
This pledge already draws Helsinki and Stockholm closer to the blanket of collective security provided by NATO even before any formal move to accede to the 30-member club.
Such moves would have been unthinkable barely six months ago, with Finland and Sweden carefully balancing their relations with Western allies and with their vast Russian neighbour.
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Stockholm and Helsinki to sign the agreements this week.
The agreements say the UK will come to the aid of both countries if they are attacked, and vice-versa.
The Kremlin has warned of “military and political repercussions” if Sweden and Finland decide to join the alliance but Mr Johnson made clear he would back Sweden’s accession.