Sun | Jun 26, 2022

Finland, Sweden inch closer to seeking NATO membership

Published:Sunday | May 15, 2022 | 2:47 PM
Finland's President Sauli Niinisto attends the press conference on Finland's security policy decisions at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Sunday, May 15, 2022. Finland’s president and government have announced that the Nordic country intends to apply for membership in NATO, paving the way for the 30-member Western military alliance to expand amid Russia’s war in Ukraine. (Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtiuva via AP)

BERLIN (AP) — Finland's government declared a “new era” is underway as it inches closer to seeking NATO membership, hours before Sweden's governing party on Sunday backed a plan to join the trans-Atlantic alliance amid Russia's war in Ukraine.

Russia has long bristled about NATO moving closer to its borders, so the developments will be sure to further anger Moscow.

President Vladimir Putin has already warned his Finnish counterpart on Saturday that relations would be “negatively affected.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Sunday the process for Finland and Sweden to join could be very quick. He also didn't expect Turkey to hold up the process.

Speaking after top diplomats from the alliance's 30 member states met in Berlin, Stoltenberg also expressed his hope that Ukraine could win the war as Russian military advances appear to be faltering.

In Finland, President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin confirmed earlier statements that their country would seek membership in NATO during a joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki.

The Nordic country, which was nonaligned before changing its stance on NATO, shares a long border with Russia.

“This is a historic day. A new era begins,” Niinisto said.

The Finnish Parliament is expected to endorse the decision in the coming days. A formal membership application will then be submitted to NATO headquarters in Brussels, most likely at some point next week.

Sweden, also nonaligned, moved a step closer to applying for NATO membership after the governing Social Democratic party met Sunday and backed joining the trans-Atlantic alliance.

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