Helsinki (AFP), April 13 – Shaken by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Finland’s prime minister said on Wednesday the Nordic nation would decide whether or not to seek NATO membership “within weeks”, despite the risk of infuriating Moscow.
Parliament in Helsinki will open a debate next week on joining the Western alliance after the war in Ukraine triggered a dramatic shift in public and political opinion in Finland and neighboring Sweden over long-running policies. date of military non-alignment.
Attempting to join NATO would almost certainly be viewed as a provocation by Moscow, for whom NATO’s expansion to its borders has been a key security grievance.
But Prime Minister Sanna Marin said Finland would now decide quickly on its application to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“I think it’s going to go quite quickly. In a few weeks, not a few months,” Marin said during a press conference in Stockholm with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.
Sweden is also discussing NATO membership after the February 24 Russian invasion.
– Guarantees –
A report commissioned by the Finnish government released on Wednesday examined the “fundamentally changed” security environment, according to the Foreign Ministry, and will be submitted to parliament.
The report does not make recommendations but stresses, as Marin did in his speech, that without NATO membership Finland enjoys no security guarantees, despite being a partner of the ‘alliance.
“There is no other way to have security guarantees than within the framework of NATO’s common deterrence and defense, as guaranteed by Article 5 of NATO”, he said. said Marin, referring to an attack on one member being considered an attack on all.
The “chilling effect” on Finland’s defense would also be “significantly greater” within the alliance, the report notes, adding that it also includes obligations for Finland to help other members.
An opening parliamentary debate on membership is scheduled for next Wednesday.
Former prime minister and longtime NATO advocate Alexander Stubb said he thought an application for membership was “a foregone conclusion”.
Finland has a long history with Russia. In 1917 it declared independence after 150 years of Russian rule.
During World War II, its vastly outnumbered army fought off a Soviet invasion, before a peace deal saw it cede several border areas to Moscow.
During the Cold War, Finland remained neutral in exchange for guarantees from Moscow that it would not invade.
– Change of heart –
The reversal of opinion on NATO would have been unthinkable just a few months ago.
As recently as January, Prime Minister Marin said membership was “highly unlikely” during his tenure.
But after two decades of public support for stable membership at 20-30%, the war caused supporters to rise to over 60%.
Public statements collected by the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper suggest that half of Finland’s 200 MPs now support membership while only 12 oppose it.
Others say they will announce a position after detailed discussions.
The government has said it hopes to reach a parliamentary consensus over the next few weeks, with MPs due to hear from a number of security experts.
Many analysts predict that Finland could submit an offer in time for a NATO summit in June.
Any offer to join must be accepted by all 30 NATO states, a process that could take anywhere from four months to a year.
Finland has so far received public assurances from Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg that NATO’s door remains open, and the support of several members.
– ‘Like changing religion’ –
Unlike Finland, Sweden shares no land border with Russia and the two countries have not been at war for two centuries.
Nevertheless, pro-NATO sentiment is also rising among Swedes who “realize that they could find themselves in the same position as Ukraine, lots of sympathy but no military aid”, said Robert Dalsjo, director of research at the Swedish Defense Research Agency.
Many commentators expect Sweden and Finland to act in tandem on whether to join, but their leaders have stressed they could make different decisions.
Sweden’s ruling party this week announced a review of its longstanding opposition to NATO membership.
“For social democrats in Sweden, changing their opinion (on NATO) is like changing their religion,” former Prime Minister Stubb told AFP.
“And I’m not talking Protestant to Catholic, I’m talking Christian to Muslim.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned that Russia would take steps to “rebalance the situation” if Finland joined.
President Sauli Niinisto has said Russia’s response could include airspace, territorial violations and hybrid attacks, which Finnish NATO supporters believe the country is well prepared to resist.
Wednesday’s report said that even as a member, “Finland’s goal would be to maintain functional relations with Russia.”
“Russia will most definitely huff and puff,” Dalsjo said, but added: “I don’t think they’ll do anything violent.
“However, in the current mood of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, I wouldn’t completely rule it out.”