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Russian neighbor Finland announces it wants to join NATO

Finland leaders announce intent to join NATO
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)

Finland declared Sunday that it wants to join NATO as the head of the trans-Atlantic military alliance expressed hope that — with Russia’s military advance appearing to falter — Ukraine can win the war.

President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin made the announcement that Finland would seek membership of NATO during a joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki. The previously neutral Nordic country 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.

The announcement came as top diplomats from the 30 NATO member states met in Berlin to discuss providing further support to Ukraine and moves by Finland, Sweden and others to join NATO in the face of threats from Russia.

“Russia’s war in Ukraine is not going as Moscow had planned,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, speaking by video as he recovers from a COVID-19 infection.” “They failed to take Kiev. They are pulling back from around Kharkiv. Their major offensive in Donbas has stalled. Russia is not achieving its strategic objectives.”

“Ukraine can win this war,” he said, adding that NATO must continue to step up its military support to the country.

Sweden has also already taken steps toward joining the alliance, while Georgia’s bid is again being discussed despite dire warnings from Moscow about the consequences if its neighbor becomes part of NATO.

Nordic NATO member Norway said it strongly welcomed Finland’s decision to seek membership. Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt described Helsinki’s move as “a turning point” for the Nordic region’s defense and security policies.

“Finnish membership in NATO will be good for Finland, good for the Nordic region, and good for NATO. Finland has Norway’s full support,” Huitfeldt said in comments emailed to The Associated Press.

Huitfeldt said the Norwegian government would facilitate “a swift consent to ratification by the Norwegian Parliament” for Finland’s accession into NATO.

“We are now seeing unprecedented unity in NATO. With the Finnish membership, we will further strengthen the Nordic flank of the military alliance,” Huitfeldt said.

Stoltenberg said he was confident the accession process for Finland and Sweden could be expedited in the existing member states. In the meantime, the alliance would increase its presence in the Baltic region to deter Russian threats, he said.

“All allies realize the historic magnitude of the moment,” Stoltenberg added.

That sentiment was echoed by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.

“Sweden and Finland, if you’re ready, we’re ready,” she said.

Denmark’s foreign minister dismissed suggestions that objections from Russian President Vladimir Putin could hinder the alliance from letting in new members.

“Each and every European country has a fundamental right to choose their own security arrangement,” Jeppe Kofod told reporters.

“We see now a world where the enemy of democracy number one is Putin and the thinking that he represents,” he said, adding that NATO would also stand with other countries, such as Georgia, which he said were being “instrumentalized” by Russia.

On the sidelines of the meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met earlier Sunday with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba to discuss the impact of the war and how to get Ukraine’s grain to international markets.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Blinken “underscored the United States’ enduring commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s unprovoked war.”

Britain’s top diplomat said NATO members would also discuss security issues beyond Europe during their meeting Sunday — a reference to growing unease among democratic nations about the rise of China.

“As well as protecting Euro-Atlantic security, we also need to watch out for Indo-Pacific security,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said.

The meeting follows a gathering of foreign ministers from the Group of Seven leading economies on Germany’s Baltic Sea coast this week. Officials there expressed strong support for Ukraine and warned that Russia’s blockade of grain exports from Ukrainian ports risks stoking a global food crisis.

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