Finland and Sweden could join NATO quickly and would be “welcomed with open arms”, its leader said today.
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters this morning that he expected the entries of two historically neutral countries will be done “quickly”.
Nations have expressed a new desire to join NATO since Russia invaded Ukraine.
This follows yesterday’s news that Finland and Sweden will both apply next month.
Mr Stoltenberg said in Brussels: “If they decide to apply, Finland and Sweden will be warmly welcomed and I expect the process to move quickly.”
He also described the countries as “our closest partners”, adding: “They are strong and mature democracies.
NATO boss Jens Stoltenberg says countries ‘will be warmly welcomed’ and enter ‘quickly’
“Their armed forces meet NATO standards and are interoperable with NATO forces.
“We train together, we train together and we have also worked with Finland and Sweden in many different missions and operations.”
The NATO chief said he would meet Finnish President Sauli Niinisto later today, Reuters reported.
And in a scathing rebuke to Putin’s war in Ukraine, Stoltenberg said: “It is fundamentally about the right of every nation in Europe to decide its own future.
“So when Russia tries in a way to threaten, to intimidate Finland and Sweden into not implementing it, it just goes to show how Russia is not respecting the fundamental right of every nation to choose your own path.”
Since Russia began its invasion on February 24, NATO members have spent $8bn (£5.4bn) providing military support and arms to Ukraine.
Stoltenberg (pictured with European Parliament President Roberta Metsola) said he would meet Finland’s president later today
Stoltenberg chastised Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, said it violated kyiv’s ‘fundamental rights’
Swedish Prime Minister Andersson (left) hosted Finnish Prime Minister Marin (right) for talks this month
Finland and Sweden are currently NATO “partners” – allowed to take part in joint training exercises and receive briefings – but are not full members.
Becoming a full member would mean the pair are protected under Article 5, which states that an attack on one member of the alliance is an attack on all members.
They joined the EU alongside Austria in 1995.
NATO membership also requires ratification by the parliaments of the 30 member states. But the Secretary-General said countries could join as interim members in the meantime.
He said: “I am convinced that there are ways to bridge this interim period in a way that is good enough and works for both Finland and Sweden.”
Russia, which shares an 810-mile border with Finland, has said it would fire nuclear weapons at its Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad if the two countries apply to join NATO.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson is said to be eager for the country to join the transatlantic alliance by June.
This will be met with fury in the Kremlin, whose invasion of Ukraine was prompted in part by kyiv’s wish to join the pact.
Moscow lawmaker Vladimir Dzhabarov warned that if Finland tried to join it would mean “the destruction of the country”.
Swedish Prime Minister Andersson hosted Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin in Stockholm for a meeting on their potential alliance memberships less than two weeks ago.
Marin said at the time: “There are different perspectives to apply (for) NATO membership or not to apply and we have to analyze them very carefully. But I think our process will be quite fast, it will happen. in a few weeks.
President Niinisto (right) met Boris Johnson (left) at number ten last month. He warned his country could face serious ‘disruption’ if Finland tries to join NATO
The assault on Ukraine triggered a dramatic shift in public and political opinion in Finland and neighboring Sweden over their longstanding policies of military non-alignment.
In Finland, support for joining the alliance rose from 28% in February to 68%.
And 57% of Swedes are in favor of joining NATO, up from 51% last month.
But Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said last week that the two countries had been told “what it would lead to” if they joined NATO.
“We have issued all our warnings both publicly and through bilateral channels,” she told state news channel Rossiya 24. astonish, they were informed of everything.”
Ms Andersson, the Swedish Prime Minister, said there was “no point” in delaying any NATO bid.
Lavrov told Russian state TV this week that the risk of nuclear war ‘cannot be underestimated’
“There is a before and an after February 24,” she said, referring to the date Russia invaded Ukraine. “This is a very important moment in history.
“The security landscape has completely changed. We have to analyze the situation to see what is best for the security of Sweden, for the Swedish people, in this new situation.
Putin yesterday criticized NATO’s involvement in Ukraine and said Russia’s response to any potential threat would be “lightning fast”.
The president made the fiery comments just days after Russia tested its new Sarmat 2 nuclear missile, which it says can beat all defenses.
Putin said: “If anyone intends to interfere in what is happening from the outside, he should know that this poses an unacceptable strategic threat to Russia.”
“They need to know that our response to counterattacks will be lightning fast. Fast.’
Finland’s Prime Minister Marin, pictured at an EU summit in 2021, has pivoted in favor of NATO entry
On Monday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that Russia was now waging a proxy war with all of NATO – and the risk of it going nuclear is “real”.
Speaking on state television, Lavrov said the current situation is worse than the Cuban missile crisis at the height of the Cold War.
Asked about the possibility of nuclear war, he said: “The risks are very significant. I don’t want danger artificially inflated [but] it’s serious, true. It cannot be underestimated.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto warned in late March that Russia could “disrupt” his country if it dares to join the defensive alliance.
Finland and Russia fought a short but bloody war in the winter of 1939-1940 in -43C climates
He said Moscow could break into Finnish territory and launch cyberattacks if Helsinki asked to join the Western military alliance.
Mr Niinisto said: “We don’t even know all the possibilities of hybrid influence that someone can invent. The whole world of information technology is vulnerable.
Finns share with Ukraine a fierce sense of independence from Russia. Finland defended itself against Stalin’s aggression during the Winter War of 1939 and 1940.
Faced with 750,000 invading Soviet troops in -43°C temperatures, a half-outnumbered Finnish army resisted a Russian invasion for three months until it agreed to a ceasefire.
Why aren’t Sweden and Finland already part of NATO?
Finland and Sweden have been militarily non-aligned since World War II.
Sweden maintained its policy of neutrality – which had begun in the early 19th century – throughout the war, wanting to avoid being drawn into a conflict that engulfed neighboring powers Germany and the Soviet Union.
Instead, Sweden took advantage of its neutrality by exporting iron ore to the Nazis, sharing military intelligence with the Allies, and training their refugee soldiers.
Meanwhile, Finland changed sides in the conflict, first being invaded by Joseph Stalin and aiding the Nazis, before fighting against Hitler’s troops.
When NATO was formed in 1949 for a Western military alliance, Sweden decided not to join and maintained its neutrality, introducing a security policy that ensured its non-alignment in peace and its neutrality in war. .
In 1994, Stockholm decided to join NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme, aimed at building trust between member states and other European countries, but so far it has not shown the desire to fully join the alliance.
Finland is also a member of the PPP but has also declared its desire to remain neutral since the war.
The EU member state was part of the Russian Empire and gained independence in the Russian Revolution of 1917, but nearly lost it fighting the Soviet Union in World War II.
Having been invaded by Russia in 1939 and sharing a long border with the superpower, Finland wanted to stay out of future conflicts, giving it the freedom to maintain a strong relationship with Moscow and the West while enjoying a free market economy.