Finnish Political Leaders to Unveil NATO Stance

Photo: Collected

Photo: Collected

Finland's president and prime minister will announce Thursday their highly awaited positions on whether to join NATO, the first step toward a formal decision after Russia's war in Ukraine triggered a swift turnaround in opinion.

President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin will publish a joint statement at 10:00 am (0700 GMT), the president's office told AFP.

They are widely expected to come out in favour of joining.

"Joining NATO would not be against anyone," Niinisto told reporters on Wednesday, amid Russian warnings of consequences if Helsinki were to seek membership in the Western military alliance.

His response to Russia would be: "You caused this, look in the mirror," he said.

"All signs point to Finland applying to join NATO," Iro Sarkka, a NATO expert from the University of Helsinki, told AFP.

As recently as January, amid tensions between the West and Russia, Marin said a bid would be "very unlikely" during her current mandate, which ends in April 2023.

But after its powerful eastern neighbour invaded Ukraine on February 24, Finland's political and public opinion swung dramatically in favour of membership as a deterrent against Russian aggression.

A poll published on Monday by public broadcaster Yle showed that a record 76 percent of Finns now support joining the alliance, up from the steady 20-30 percent registered in recent years.

Finland shares a 1,300-kilometre (800-mile) border with Russia and has been militarily non-aligned for decades.

In 1939, it was invaded by the Soviet Union.

Finns put up a fierce fight during the bloody Winter War, but were ultimately forced to cede a huge stretch of its eastern Karelia province in a peace treaty with Moscow.

While Sarkka noted that both the prime minister and president have been "careful" so far in their statements regarding NATO, their actions suggest the Nordic country is heading for membership.

"The president no longer talks about the EU defence option or the role of Finland as the mediator between the East and the West," she said.

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