As NATO foreign ministers prepare to discuss bringing two Nordic countries into the alliance, Moscow threatened unspecified “retaliatory steps” against Finland, which plans to make its membership bid “without delay.”
Finland’s top leaders issued a joint statement on Thursday, signaling their intent.
“NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security,” President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin wrote. “As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance. Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay.”
Neighboring Sweden likely will also apply to join the alliance, following years of military neutrality. The addition of the two Nordic countries would expand NATO to include 32 member nations.
The move from Finland comes in the wake of Russia’s months-long attack on Ukraine, which does not belong to NATO. If approved, the addition of Finland would expand NATO along Russia’s borders — the opposite of what Russian President Vladimir Putin aimed to achieve by attacking Ukraine.
“He invaded Ukraine because he wants less NATO at Russia’s borders,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said last month. “What he gets is more NATO. It is the aggressive actions, the threatening rhetoric by Russia that has made so many nations in Europe decide to go for NATO membership. And if Finland and Sweden apply, then that will be yet another example of exactly that.”
Still, the announcement from Finland sent ripples through the Kremlin, prompting ominous but unspecified warnings.
“Finland joined the unfriendly steps taken by the European Union towards our country,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “This cannot fail to arouse our regret, and is a reason for corresponding symmetrical responses on our side.”
The Foreign Ministry echoed the sentiment.
“Helsinki must be aware of the responsibility and consequences of such a move,” the ministry said. “Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps, both of a military-technical and other nature, in order to stop the threats to its national security that arise in this regard.”
Possible NATO membership for Finland and Sweden will be on the agenda in Berlin this weekend, during a meeting of foreign ministers.
The two nations would be embraced “with open arms,” Stoltenberg said. “Finland and Sweden are already contributing to Euro-Atlantic security. We know them well, they are our closest partners. They are strong, mature democracies.”
Their applications would be processed quickly, Stoltenberg said.
“And it will demonstrate to President Putin that he gets exactly the opposite of what he wants,” he said.
Moscow on Thursday also doubled down on previous warnings to nations that “interfere” in Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
“Moscow will be ready to give the most resolute response, if any side ventures to interfere in Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine,” Peskov said.