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Finland leaders say country “must apply for NATO membership without delay”

Data: NATO. Map: Thomas Oide/Axios

Finland’s president and prime minister announced Thursday their support for an application for NATO membership, setting in motion a process that will culminate in the alliance’s ninth enlargement since its founding in 1949.

Why it matters: Finland will more than double the length of NATO’s borders with Russia once it is officially admitted into the alliance. Sweden is expected to make an announcement on NATO membership on Sunday. The transformation of Europe’s security landscape is a nightmare for Vladimir Putin — but one triggered by his own decision to invade Ukraine.

What they’re saying: “Now that the moment of decision-making is near, we state our equal views, also for information to the parliamentary groups and parties,” said Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna in a joint statement.

“NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defence alliance,” they added.

“Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay. We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days.”
Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna

The big picture: Public support for NATO membership in Finland and Sweden shot up virtually overnight after Russia invaded Ukraine, with a strong majority in both countries now in favor of joining.

Both countries have been close NATO partners for three decades, despite their official non-alignment.But the West’s refusal to send boots on the ground to defend Ukraine has underscored the difference that NATO’s Article V commitment to collective defense — often hailed as “iron-clad” by President Biden — can make in a crisis.”If Ukraine had been part of NATO before the war, there would have been no war,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a speech Wednesday.

Unlike Ukraine, Georgia or Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose membership aspirations have each been recognized by NATO, Finland and Sweden are expected to be admitted to the alliance relatively swiftly once they formally apply.

Finland’s NATO-compatible military has a wartime strength of 280,000 and 900,000 reservists, in addition to some of the most sophisticated intelligence and cyber capabilities in Europe.Its 800-mile border with Russia, a frontier on which two bloody wars were fought with the Soviet Union from 1939 to 1944, has helped foster a society-wide emphasis on security and “survival,” according to Finnish security experts.Sweden, meanwhile, has one of the strongest air forces in Europe, and together with Finland will dramatically bolster NATO’s presence in the vulnerable Baltic region.

Between the lines: The “gray zone” period between when Finland and Sweden apply for NATO and are formally admitted is expected to give rise to heightened Russian disinformation, violations of air space and other hybrid threats.

Finnish media reports that critical infrastructure companies have been on high alert during “NATO Super Week” in anticipation of cyber attacks.Finland and Sweden have already sought and received security assurances in anticipation of their NATO bid, including from the U.S. and U.K.British Prime Minister Boris Johnson traveled to both countries on Wednesday to sign “historic declarations” vowing to come to their defense if they’re attacked.

What to watch: The timeline for Finland and Sweden’s accession will depend on how quickly each of NATO’s 30 member states sign off, but the alliance will be well on its way to enlargement by the time of its crucial summit in Madrid on June 29-30.