Finns on Thursday (May 12) welcomed their country’s decision to apply to join NATO “without delay”.
President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said in a joint statement they hoped that the steps still needed for a decision would “be taken rapidly within the next few days”. Neighbour Sweden is expected to follow suit.
“It’s great news. It’s about time. I have really been waiting for this happening in a long time and I’m really, really happy about that,” said Helsinki resident Niko Ohvo.
“I think it’s a great thing because it will bring more safety to Finland against Russian aggression and it also shows Russia that there are consequences for what you do.”
The decision by the two Nordic countries to abandon the neutrality they maintained throughout the Cold War would be one of the biggest shifts in European security in decades.
Finland and Sweden are the two biggest EU countries that had stayed out of NATO, and Finland’s 1,300-km (800-mile) border will more than double the frontier between the U.S.-led alliance and Russia, putting NATO guards a few hours’ drive from the northern outskirts of St Petersburg.
Moscow has repeatedly warned Finland and Sweden against joining NATO, threatening “serious military and political consequences”.
In Helsinki, Jyrki Uuraasmaa said joining NATO was the best “security” solution.
“Russia have been threatening us so many times, now again, so it’s absolutely that we should join NATO because, you know, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin started it, so he is affecting that we are joining NATO now,” he said.
Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine has caused a shift in public opinion in the Nordic region, with political parties that had backed neutrality for generations now coming to embrace the view that Russia is a menace.