The leaders of Finland announced Thursday that they plan to apply to join NATO “without delay,” a move that will greatly escalate tensions between Helsinki and Moscow.
“Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said in a joint statement. “We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days.”
A few steps have to be taken before Finland formally applies, but NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said repeatedly that the alliance would quickly approve Helsinki’s membership. Sweden is also eyeing a NATO membership and is expected to make a decision this week.
Both Finland and Sweden have received security guarantees from Britain on Wednesday should they come under attack during the potential NATO application period. Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said last week that Stockholm had received unspecific security “assurances” from the US for the application period.
Russia responded to the Finnish announcement by warning that it would take “military-technical” measures. “Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps both of military-technical and of other nature in order to stop the threats to its national security that emerge as a result,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said, according to Tass.
“Yet history will decide why Finland should turn its territory into the frontier of a military standoff with the Russian Federation while losing its independence in making its own decisions,” the Russian Foreign Ministry added.
Finland shares an over 800-mile border with Russia, and Helskinki’s ascent into the alliance would more than double the amount of NATO territory bordering Russia. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who now serves as the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, warned in April that if Finland joins NATO, Russia would have to reinforce the border and hinted at potential nuclear deployments.
While Russia is unhappy with Finland’s decision and is warning it will respond, Medvedev said the situation is different than Ukraine’s NATO aspiration. “We don’t have territorial disputes with those countries like we do with Ukraine,” he said. “For that reason, the price of their membership for us is different.”