Finland and Sweden confirm intention to join Nato

Announcements signify historic shift in policy in Nordic countries that will redraw Europe’s security map

The leaders of Finland and Sweden have confirmed they intend to join Nato, signifying a historic Nordic policy shift triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that will redraw the security map of Europe.

Abandoning decades of military non-alignment, the two countries’ governments will present their proposals to their respective parliaments on Monday and are expected to formally submit a joint membership application to the 30-member alliance as soon as the decisions are ratified.

“The president and the government’s foreign policy committee have agreed that after consulting parliament, Finland will apply for Nato membership,” president Sauli Niinistö said, hailing the decision as “a historic day” for the Nordic country.

“A new era is opening,” Niinistö said. “A protected Finland is being born as part of a stable, strong and responsible Nordic region. We gain security, and we also share it. It’s good to keep in mind that security isn’t a zero-sum game.”

Finland’s prime minister, Sanna Marin, said she hoped parliament would confirm the decision “in the coming days”, adding that as a member of Nato, Finland would help reinforce not just the 30-member, US-led defensive alliance but also “strengthen the EU, whose voice in Nato can become stronger”.

A few hours later, Sweden’s Social Democrats said they had jettisoned their previous opposition to Nato membership, with Moscow’s onslaught on Ukraine looking set to usher in the very expansion of Nato Vladimir Putin claimed he wanted to prevent.

“The best thing for the security of Sweden and the Swedish people is to join Nato,” the prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, told a news conference. “We believe Sweden needs the formal security guarantees that come with membership in Nato.”

She said non-alignment had served Sweden well but “will not do so in the future”. Sweden would be “vulnerable” as the only country in the Baltic region outside Nato, she said, adding that Stockholm hoped to submit a joint application with Helsinki.

“Tomorrow I will assure broad parliamentary support in the Riksdag for a Swedish membership application,” Andersson said. The issue has divided her party, with some members objecting that the decision was rushed through. The Social Democrats remain opposed to nuclear weapons or permanent Nato military bases on Swedish soil.

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The two Nordic countries’ announcements came as western agencies reported that Russia had suffered heavy military losses in Ukraine and risked getting further bogged down in the strategically important east of the country amid stiff resistance.

Finland shares an 810-mile (1,300km) border with Russia and, like Sweden, has maintained strict policies of neutrality then non-alignment since the end of the second world war, viewing Nato membership as a provocation of Moscow.

However, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February has led to a profound change in both countries’ thinking, with public support for Nato accession in Finland trebling to about 75% and surging to between 50% and 60% in Sweden.

Russia has repeatedly warned both countries against joining Nato, saying such a move would oblige it to “restore military balance” by strengthening its defences in the Baltic Sea region, including by deploying nuclear weapons.

Niinistö called his Russian counterpart, Putin, on Saturday and informed him that his country aimed to join Nato, in a conversation he described as “direct and straightforward” but also “calm and cool … The surprise was he took it so calmly.”

Putin reportedly responded to Niinistö’s call by saying Nato membership “would be a mistake, since there is no threat to Finland’s security”, according to a readout of the call released by the Kremlin, but did not issue any retaliatory threats. Niinistö said on Sunday that he did not believe Russia would respond to the move with military force, but added: “Total vigilance is in place.”

Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, has repeatedly said both countries would be “welcomed with open arms” and that the accession process would be quick, though formal approval by all the alliance’s members could take several months.

However, Turkey has expressed dissatisfaction over Finnish and Swedish membership, which requires the unanimous approval of the alliance’s members. The Turkish foreign minister said on Sunday that Sweden and Finland must stop supporting terrorist groups in their countries and provide clear security guarantees.

Speaking after a Nato foreign ministers’ meeting in Berlin, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said he had met his Swedish and Finnish counterparts and they were seeking to address Turkey’s concerns, adding that Turkey was “not threatening anybody” but that while Finland’s approach was conciliatory, Sweden was not being so constructive.

“There absolutely needs to be security guarantees here. They need to stop supporting terrorist organisations,” Çavuşoğlu said. Ankara is particularly concerned about Sweden’s support for the PKK Kurdish militant group, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the EU and the US.

Niinistö said he was ready to meet the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to discuss his objections, while Stoltenberg said Turkey was not blocking the membership bids and he was confident Ankara’s concerns would be resolved.

“Turkey made it clear that its intention is not to block membership,” the Nato secretary general said. “I am confident we’ll be able to find common ground.”


On the battlefield in Ukraine, the frontlines shifted as Russia made advances in the fiercely contested eastern Donbas region and Ukraine’s forces waged a successful counter-offensive near the strategic Russian-held city of Izium.

Near the north-eastern city of Kharkiv, where Ukrainian forces have been on the attack since early this month, local commanders said they believed Russia was withdrawing troops to reinforce positions around Izium to the south.

Russia’s defence ministry claimed to have carried out “high-precision” missile strikes on four artillery munitions depots in the Donetsk area, also destroying two missile-launching systems and radar and taking out 15 Ukrainian drones.

But British military intelligence said in an update that Russia’s offensive in the Donbas had “lost momentum”. Demoralised Russian troops had failed to make substantial gains and Moscow’s battle plan was “significantly behind schedule”, it said.

“Russia has now likely suffered losses of one-third of the ground combat force it committed in February”, it said. “Under current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days.”

Ukraine’s military acknowledged setbacks, however, saying on Sunday that despite losses, “Russian forces continue to advance in the Lyman, Sievierodonetsk, Avdiivka and Kurakhiv areas in the broader Donbas region”.


Jon Henley, Europe correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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