Finland's president and government announced Sunday that the Nordic country intends apply for membership in NATO, paving the way for the 30-member Western military alliance to expand amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.
President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin made the announcement at a joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki. The Finnish Parliament is expected to endorse the decision in coming days, but it is considered a formality.
A formal membership application will then be submitted to NATO headquarters in Brussels, most likely at the some point next week.
Marin said she hopes the Finnish Parliament will confirm the decision to apply to join NATO in the next few days and said she hopes it will be based on a strong mandate.
Speaking alongside Finland's president in Helsinki, she said they have both been in close contact with NATO member countries and NATO itself thanks them for the support they have received so far.
"In Finland we still have the parliamentary process ahead of us but I trust that the parliament will debate this historic decision with determination and responsibility," she said.
NATO members' foreign ministers meet on Sunday in Berlin to discuss providing further support to Ukraine and moves by Finland, Sweden and others to join the western alliance in the face of threats from Russia.
Georgia's bid is again being discussed despite dire warnings from Moscow about the consequences if the former Soviet state joins.
“Finland and Sweden are already the closest partners of NATO," NATO Deputy-Secretary General Mircea Geoana said, adding that he expected allies to view their applications positively. However, Turkey has raised objections and has threatened to veto the bids.
Geoana chaired the meeting as Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is recovering from a COVID
Finland's President Niinistö formally notified Vladimir Putin of the country's move to join NATO, in a phone call on Saturday. The Russian leader said it would be a mistake.
Finland's move comes ahead of a crucial meeting of Sweden's ruling party to discuss a possible joint membership application by the two countries.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said her country and others made clear during a dinner late on Saturday that they would be willing to fast-track the national ratification process for Finland and Sweden.
“If these two countries are deciding to join, they can join very quickly,” she said.
Denmark's foreign minister dismissed suggestions that objections from Russian President 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.
But Turkey has warned that it could veto the applications, because it says Finland and Sweden both support Kurdish groups which it considers "terrorist" organizations.
"A big majority of the Turkish people are against the membership of those countries who are supporting PKK, YPG terrorist organization," Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, said.
"And they are asking us to block this membership," he added. Finland's foreign minister downplayed Turkey's objections before the talks began.
"I yesterday called to my good colleague Mevlut Cavusoglu the foreign minister, a little bit to take the tensions down and we will also meet today and I'm sure that we will find the solution to this item," Pekka Haavisto told reporters.
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.