Helsinki (AFP), April 20 – Finland’s parliament on Wednesday opened a debate on whether to seek NATO membership, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sparked a wave of political and public support for NATO membership. the military alliance.
Although Russia has warned of a nuclear buildup in the Baltic if Finland and neighboring Sweden join the military alliance, Finland’s prime minister said his country must now decide quickly whether to apply for membership.
“The time for solutions has arrived,” said Sanna Marin, adding, “Unity is the best guarantee of security.”
She said last week that Finland’s decision would come “in weeks, not months”.
Sweden is also discussing whether to submit an application for membership following the February 24 Russian invasion.
Finland’s 200 Eduskunta MPs received a government-commissioned ‘white paper’ last week that assessed the implications of NATO membership as well as other security options, such as increased agreements bilateral defence.
The report does not make any recommendations but stresses that without NATO membership, Finland does not enjoy any security guarantees despite being currently a partner in the alliance.
He said the ‘chilling effect’ on Finland’s defense would be ‘considerably greater’ inside the bloc, while noting that joining also meant Finland had to help other states. of NATO.
After two decades of public support for NATO membership holding steady at 20-30%, the war sparked an increase among supporters to more than 60%, according to opinion polls.
“Before, I was against joining NATO, but because of this situation, I’m now more in favor,” Sofia Lindblom, 24, said while walking her dog in central Helsinki on Wednesday.
“Joining would bring some security,” she told AFP.
In nearby Senate Square, Vuokka Mustonen said the invasion of Ukraine had “completely changed” her opinion in favor of NATO membership.
“I feel pretty safe, but quite worried,” the 69-year-old said.
– ‘Highly probable’ –
Public statements collected by Finnish media suggest that half of Finland’s 200 MPs now support membership, while only about 12 oppose it.
“It’s clear that Russia’s actions have brought us a lot closer to military alignment,” Antti Lindtman, an MP from the ruling Social Democratic Party, said during Wednesday’s debate.
Russia “has become ruthless, unpredictable and aggressive”.
But Lindtman refrained from explicitly announcing a reversal in his party’s longstanding ambivalence towards NATO membership, saying the time for a final decision will be after parliament and its committees have considered the question in depth.
Meanwhile, Green MP Atte Harjanne said his party now supports NATO membership, a position echoed by the Center Party as well as the opposition Finnish Party and National Coalition.
In the first hour of debate, only the Left Alliance, a junior partner in the ruling coalition, expressed an opposing view, warning that NATO membership would put Finland at the forefront of a possible Russian attack.
“We have to have the courage to discuss everything and bring out all the negative aspects of the different options,” said Green MP Jussi Saramo.
On Friday, Finland’s European Affairs Minister Tytti Tuppurainen said she thought a Finnish bid was “very likely”.
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.
President Sauli Niinisto has said Russia’s response could include violations of airspace or territory and hybrid attacks, which Finnish NATO supporters believe the country is well prepared to resist.
Finland declared its independence in 1917 after 108 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.
The Nordic nation remained neutral during the Cold War in exchange for Soviet guarantees not to invade.
After the fall of the Iron Curtain, Finland aligned itself firmly with the West, joining the European Union and becoming a close partner in NATO.
Successive Finnish leaders hesitated to become full members, believing that military non-alignment was the best way to maintain working relations with the Kremlin.