Finland clarifies next steps to NATO entry

Russia said such a move would cause it to "rebalance the situation" with its own measures.

By Essi Lehto, Reuters, Anne Kauranen, Reuters - April 7, 2022
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Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto attends a joint news conference with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (not pictured) in Helsinki, Finland on March 31, 2022. (Emmi Korhonen / Lehtikuva via Reuters / File Photo)

HELSINKI — Finland will clarify next steps regarding a possible decision to seek NATO membership in the coming weeks, Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told reporters after attending a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Thursday.

Meanwhile a Kremlin spokesperson said Thursday that Russia would have to “rebalance the situation,” should Finland — or neighboring Sweden, or both — join the alliance.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, opinion polls commissioned by Finnish media outlets have shown a swift U-turn in public opinion in Finland with the majority now favoring joining U.S.-led NATO.

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Finland, a European Union member state, shares a 1,300-kilometer (810-mile) border with Russia. Haavisto said Russia’s invasion had shown that Russia is willing to take increasing risks in its military operations, can quickly mobilize more than 100,000 soldiers against a neighboring country, and has mooted more openly than before the possible use of its nuclear and biological weapons.

“There we come to a situation in which we may need cooperation,” Haavisto said, alluding to NATO.

He added that NATO member countries have offered to help Finland with ensuring security during an application process and said they estimate it would take from four months to one year to approve the application.

“There is an important NATO summit in Madrid in June. Of course NATO is wondering whether Finland and possibly Sweden will have submitted their membership applications before that,” Haavisto said.

He said the government will next week give the Finnish parliament a review on how Russia’s decision to attack Ukraine has changed Finland’s security. But he added the government was prepared to quickly propose joining NATO if there was sufficient support from parliament.

After fighting with the Soviet Union during World War Two, Finland has based its security policy on maintaining a credible defense and friendly relations with its much larger neighbor.

The Nordic nation regularly participates in defense training with neighboring Sweden and Norway, is a member of British-led JEF forces and in 2014 joined NATO’s enhanced opportunities program together with Sweden, Australia, Georgia and Jordan.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends a joint news conference of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Moscow on February 18, 2022. (Sergey Guneev / Sputnik / Kremlin via Reuters / File Photo)

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that if Finland and Sweden joined NATO then Russia would have to “rebalance the situation” with its own measures.

If the two countries join, “we’ll have to make our western flank more sophisticated in terms of ensuring our security,” Peskov told Britain’s Sky News.

However, he said Russia would not see such a move as an existential threat, of the kind that might prompt it to consider using nuclear weapons.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 and the resulting fighting has caused the deaths of thousands of civilians and soldiers and the devastation of towns and settlements, as well as triggering an unprecedented barrage of coordinated Western sanctions.

Additional reporting by Kevin Liffey in London. This report combines material from multiple Reuters stories.