- Finland and Sweden abandoned traditional neutrality by joining the European Union in 1995
- Public opinion in both countries was against joining NATO until the Russian invasion on Ukraine
- Support for membership surged almost overnight, first in Finland and later in Sweden
Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia “does not have a problem” with Sweden or Finland as they apply for NATO membership but that it will react to any military expansion in the countries.
Discussing Finland and Sweden, Putin said that Russia “does not have a problem with these states. And therefore in this sense, there is no direct threat to Russia created by the expansion involving these countries, but the expansion of military infrastructure onto this territory will of course give rise to our reaction in response.”
Putin was speaking at a summit in Moscow of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation, which includes five other ex-Soviet countries.
Finland, Sweden inch closer to seeking NATO membership
Finland's government declared a “new era” is underway as it inches closer to seeking NATO membership, hours before Sweden's governing party on Sunday backed a plan to join the trans-Atlantic alliance amid Russia's war in Ukraine.
Russia has long bristled about NATO moving closer to its borders, so the developments will be sure to further anger Moscow. President Vladimir Putin has already warned his Finnish counterpart on Saturday that relations would be “negatively affected.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Sunday the process for Finland and Sweden to join could be very quick. He also didn't expect Turkey to hold up the process.
Speaking after top diplomats from the alliance’s 30 member states met in Berlin, Stoltenberg also expressed his hope that Ukraine could win the war as Russian military advances appear to be faltering.
In Finland, President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin confirmed earlier statements that their country would seek membership in NATO during a joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki. The Nordic country, which was nonaligned before changing its stance on NATO, shares a long border with Russia.
The Finnish Parliament is expected to endorse the decision in the coming days. A formal membership application will then be submitted to NATO headquarters in Brussels, most likely at some point next week.
(With inputs from AP)