Secretary-General says Western bloc militaries would welcome former neutral Nordic nations amid Ukraine crisis
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that Finland and Sweden would be quickly brought into the alliance if they applied for membership, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine raises security concerns on the bloc’s eastern flank.
“Of course it is up to them to decide, but if they apply I expect that they will be welcomed a lot by all 30 allies and that we will find ways to do it in a relatively quick way to bring them into the alliance of they so want, “ Stoltenberg said on Sunday in one interview with CNN.
Stoltenberg made his comments after meeting with Finnish President Sauli Niinist last week, noting that NATO’s main message was that it was up to Finland to decide whether to join the alliance. He said that the same applies to Sweden.
“We respect Finland’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and their right to decide over their own future.” said the Secretary-General. “This is exactly what Russia does not respect, because they are actually trying to intimidate and say that if Finland decides to join NATO, it will have consequences.”
Although both countries are EU members, they have remained outside NATO and maintained a neutral military status. Finnish lawmakers are considering joining NATO and, given that opinion polls show increasing public support for the idea, Niinist said on Wednesday that it was no longer necessary to hold a referendum on the issue.
Public opinion has changed dramatically since Russia began its military offensive in Ukraine in February. A record 62% of Finns now prefer NATO membership, according to media YLE. Previous polls showed that a majority opposed joining the alliance. Finland shares a land border of 1,340 kilometers (832 kilometers) with Russia.
Stoltenberg has previously spoken of good prospects for Finland and Sweden being welcomed into NATO. “They are partners with expanded opportunities,” he said in January. “We have worked with them, we have trained with them, we have trained with them. They meet NATO standards in most areas.”
Moscow has said that NATO undermined Russia’s national security when it broke promises to expand eastward after the end of the Cold War in 1991. The bloc has added 14 members since 1999, and two former Soviet republics – Ukraine and Georgia – have made formal requests for join.
Chinese leaders have pointed to NATO “Call the mentality of war” as a root cause of the Ukraine crisis. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said last month that the war would have been avoided “if NATO had heeded the warnings from its own leaders and officials over the years that its expansion to the east would lead to greater, not less, instability in the region.”