Finland expected to announce NATO decision as Sweden holds key meeting

HELSINKI: The Finnish government is expected to officially announce its intention to join NATO on Sunday (May 15), as Sweden’s ruling party holds a decisive meeting that could pave the way for a joint application.

Less than three months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the two Nordic neighbors appear poised to reverse policies on military nonalignment that date back more than 75 years in Finland and more than two centuries in Sweden.

“Hopefully we can send our applications next week together with Sweden,” Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Saturday.

The countries broke their strict neutralities after the end of the Cold War by joining the EU and becoming NATO partners in the 1990s, cementing their affiliation with the West.

But the concept of full membership in NATO was not a start in the countries until the war in Ukraine saw public and political support grow for joining the military alliance in both countries.

Finland has been in the lead, while Sweden seems concerned about being the only non-NATO country in the Baltic Sea.

Many Swedish politicians have even said that their support is conditional on Finland joining.

Three days after publicly saying that their country “must apply for NATO membership without delay,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin will announce Helsinki’s decision on whether to apply for membership at a news conference at 1 pm (10am GMT).

After a meeting of the governing council, they are expected to present a membership proposal to parliament on Monday.

The Finnish head of state telephoned his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin, on Saturday to communicate his country’s desire to join NATO, in a conversation he described as “direct and direct”.

“Avoiding tensions was considered important,” Niinisto said in a statement from his office.

But Putin responded by warning that joining NATO “would be a mistake as there is no threat to Finland’s security,” according to a Kremlin statement.

NO OTHER CHOICE

According to recent polls, the number of Finns who want to join the alliance has risen to more than three-quarters, triple the level seen before the war in Ukraine.

In Sweden, support also rose sharply, to around 50 percent, with around 20 percent against.

The top leadership of Sweden’s Social Democrats, led by Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, will meet on Sunday afternoon to decide whether the party should abandon its historic stance not to join, last reaffirmed at the party’s annual congress in November. .

A green light from the ruling Social Democrats would secure a strong majority in Sweden’s parliament in favor of joining.

While top party politicians seemed willing to reverse the decision, internal critics denounced the policy change as rushed.

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