Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby on Thursday praised Finland’s move towards NATO membership and credited Russian President Vladimir Putin with inadvertently strengthening the Western military alliance amid Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
“It’s historic — there’s no question about that — for Finland, but also potentially for NATO here,” Kirby told MSNBC. “Mr. Putin, one of the things he said he didn’t want was a strong NATO on his Western flank, and he’s getting that.”
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which has dragged on now for 11 weeks, has resulted in NATO “actually growing in strength,” Kirby said. “It’s growing in deterrence capability. And, look, I won’t get ahead of the alliance and Finland’s accession, but if they join it, that’s another nation here.”
Kirby’s remarks came after Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Thursday officially endorsed the proposal for their country’s NATO membership.
“NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defence alliance,” the Finnish leaders said in a joint statement. “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.”
In addition to Finland, Sweden’s leaders also are expected to announce support for their own country’s NATO membership in the coming days. The two countries may submit their membership bids together, perhaps as soon as Monday, ahead of Niinistö’s scheduled trip to Sweden next Tuesday.
On Thursday, Kirby described Finland’s and Sweden’s armed forces as “modern militaries” with “terrific capabilities,” adding: “They may be small, but they are powerful.”
“They’re already sort of using NATO-standard kind of equipment and systems,” Kirby said. “And so integrating them into the alliance would not be very difficult at all. In fact, I mean, we routinely operate and train with the Finns and with the Swedes. So interoperability is just not going to be an issue.”