Updated May 15, 2022 - World

Russia neighbor Finland confirms it will apply for NATO membership

 Finland's President Sauli Niinisto

Finland's President Sauli Niinistö. Photo: Frank Augstein/WPA via Getty Images

Finland's President Sauli Niinistö confirmed Sunday that his country will apply for NATO membership, paving the way for what he described as a "new era."

Why it matters: If admitted, Finland's membership in NATO would more than double the length of the alliance's borders with Russia. Sweden's ruling party also signaled its support for applying to the defensive alliance Sunday.

  • It will be the alliance's ninth enlargement since its founding in 1949.
  • The transformation of Europe's security landscape is a nightmare for Russian President Vladimir Putin — but one triggered by his own decision to invade Ukraine, Axios' Zachary Basu writes.

What they're saying: "Today, we, the president and the government's foreign policy committee, have together decided that Finland ... will apply for NATO membership," Niinistö said, speaking alongside Prime Minister Sanna Marin at a joint press conference in Helsinki.

  • “This is a historic day. A new era begins,” he added, per AP. "Finland will maximize its security."

Niinistö told CNN that Finland seeking NATO membership because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine proved that the Kremlin does not respect officially non-aligned countries.

  • "What we see now, Europe, the world, is more divided," Niinistö said. "There's not very much room for nonaligned in between."
  • He said it surprised him how calm Putin was during their phone call on Saturday, during which Niinistö told the Russian president that Finland will seek membership.
  • Niinistö said he is not worried about Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's objection to Sweden's and Finland's admittance into the defensive alliance.
NATO members in Europe
Data: NATO. Map: Thomas Oide/Axios

The big picture: Niinistö and Marin had announced their support for joining the alliance, saying "NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security."

  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said both Sweden and Finland will be "welcomed with open arms," but NATO ally Turkey said on Friday that it opposes their membership, claiming they are home to Kurdish "terrorist organizations."
  • Despite the opposition, NATO's Deputy Secretary-General Mircea Geoana said earlier Sunday that he was "confident if these countries decide to seek membership in NATO we will be able to welcome them, to find all conditions for consensus to be met," per Reuters.

Niinistö called Putin on Saturday to tell him about Finland's plans to join NATO.

  • Putin told the Finnish president that membership in the alliance would be a "mistake since there are no threats to Finland's security," according to the Kremlin.
  • "Such a change in the country's foreign policy may have a negative impact on Russian-Finnish relations, which have been built over the course of many years in the spirit of neighborliness and partnership cooperation and have a mutually beneficial nature," the Kremlin said.

What's next: Finland's Parliament is expected to formally endorse the decision to join the alliance this week, AP reports.

  • Once it submits its application, it will need the support of all of NATO's 30 member states.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with Niinistö's comments on CNN.

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