As heavy fighting continues to rage in eastern Ukraine, Finland has said it intends to apply to join NATO “without delay,” in a major policy shift that sees the Nordic country, which shares a long border with Russia, abandoning decades of neutrality.
“NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance. Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said in a joint statement on May 12.
“We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days.”
Ukraine’s armed forces’ General Staff said it had recaptured Pytomnyk, a village on the main highway north of Kharkiv, a city located just 40 kilometers from the border.
In its daily intelligence bulletin, Britain’s Ministry of Defense noted that the withdrawal of Russian forces from the Kharkiv area “is a tacit recognition of Russia’s inability to capture key Ukrainian cities where they expected limited resistance from the population.”
In Helsinki, Niisto and Marin said in their statement that a special committee will announce a formal Finnish decision on a membership bid on May 15.
Finland, which shares a 1,340-kilometer border and a turbulent relationship with Russia, has stepped up its cooperation with NATO since Russia seized Crimea in 2014.
Finland fought two wars with the Soviet Union between 1939 and 1944, repelling an attempted invasion but losing 10 percent of its territory in the subsequent peace agreement.
Finland maintained its neutrality in the postwar period, acting at times as an intermediary between Moscow and the West.
Another Nordic country, traditionally neutral Sweden, is also expected to announce its intention to join NATO in the coming days, in a major reshaping of the European security architecture prompted by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.