Yle: Finland, Sweden jointly applying for NATO membership Wednesday
Finland and Sweden will apply for NATO membership together, filing their separate applications at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels at the same time, Finnish public broadcaster Yle reports.
Finland's president, Sauli Niinistö, said of the historic development, that: "Previously, both [Finland and Sweden] and Russia thought that our non-alignment contributed to stability, but when Russia said that we weren't allowed to apply for NATO membership, that changed," Yle's English-language portal reports, adding that Russia's invasion of Ukraine starting February 24 was a catalyst.
Finland's parliament, the Eduskunta, voted on membership on Tuesday – a vote at which Riigikogu speaker Jüri Ratas (Center) was present – with an overwhelming majority of MPs (94 percent) of all stripes voting in favor of NATO membership, at the 199-seat house.
Niinstö and Finland's prime minister, Sanna Marin, had announced that the country would be moving forward with its application last week, and made this official via a joint declaration issued in Finnish, Swedish and English, on Sunday.
As for Sweden, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said: "I am happy that we have taken the same path and we can do it together," she said. "Membership strengthens security for Sweden and the Baltic Sea region. The fact that we are doing this together means that we can contribute to security in northern Europe and take part in comprehensive Nordic cooperation."
Sweden's foreign minister, Ann Linde, had signed the official application on Tuesday.
Both leaders are traveling to the U.S. Wednesday to meet with POTUS Joe Biden to discuss the matter further; Biden had previously said that his country backed Finnish and Swedish membership.
Niinistö was already in Sweden Tuesday and met with King Carl XVI Gustaf as well as prime minister Andersson; Niinistö and Andersson gave a joint press conference in Stockholm making the official announcement.
The development brings to an end decades of nominal neutrality in the case of Finland and particularly with regard to its eastern neighbor; in the case of Sweden, the country has been officially non-aligned for over 200 years.
Niinistö recently spoke to Russian leader Vladimir Putin on the planned accession; Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov – an increasingly peripheral figure – said Tuesday that the accession of Finland and Sweden to the alliance will probably "not make much difference", echoing Putin's words from the previous day.
The Kremlin had previously complained that Russia was being threatened with encirclement, and itself issued vague threats about Finnish and Swedish membership. The change in tone from the Kremlin may be the result of a desire to minimize the issue at a time when Russia is beset with problems both militarily in Ukraine, and at home.
President Niinistö said that he did not expect severe, immediate retaliation from Russia, but at the same time the situation has been developing rapidly.
Niinistö and Andersson have also been trying to keep Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the loop, and said that they are willing to travel to Ankara if need be, to discuss the issue.
Turkey is a NATO member, and Erdogan had recently said he was not in favor of either country joining the alliance due to their being a safe-haven for "terrorists" - some experts have said this may simply be bluster on Erdogan's part.
All 30 member states must vote unanimously for the countries to be admitted into the alliance.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte