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NATO responds to Russian neighbor’s plan to join the bloc

NATO “will warmly welcome” Finland if it decides to join the alliance amid concerns over Russia, and is prepared to make a decision on membership “quite quickly,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday.

Speaking to CNBC, Stoltenberg said that Helsinki’s decision to review its longstanding policy of non-alignment is a “direct result of the war in Ukraine,” as the country “has a very long border with Russia.” He added, however, that it is fully up to the Finns to decide if they should join NATO or not.

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We will respect the decision regardless of what the conclusion will be, but if Finland decides to apply for membership, I am confident that NATO allies will warmly welcome them – and we can quite quickly make the decision to have them as a member of the alliance,” he said.

READ MORE: Finland reveals timeline of possible NATO accession

Stoltenberg’s remarks came one day after Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto visited Brussels for talks with his counterparts from NATO countries. Speaking to news outlet Iltalehti, Haavisto revealed that the foreign ministers asked him whether Finland and possibly Sweden would submit membership applications before NATO’s summit in June in Madrid. At a press conference, Haavisto, who earlier expressed concerns over potential retaliation from Russia, said the NATO countries have been “very actively” offering Helsinki “both diplomatic and security assistance” for the period of the application process.

According to the foreign minister, the Finnish government intends to present a review of how Russia’s military attack on Ukraine impacted the national security situation. Subject to parliamentary support, the ministers are prepared to quickly come up with a NATO membership proposal, Haavisto said.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said in an interview with Sky News on Thursday that Russia would perceive the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO as “a threat for the whole architecture of security,” and therefore would have “to take additional measures” by making its Western flank “more sophisticated” in terms of security.

READ MORE: Finland can join NATO without referendum – president

Recent polls in both Finland and Sweden show that the conflict in Ukraine has dramatically changed public opinion from previous years, with more than 60% of respondents now supporting the idea of membership in NATO.

Commenting on the record-high figures, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto stated that the level of support for membership is so high that there would be no need for a referendum. Prime Minister Sanna Marin said Russia’s offensive in Ukraine undermined trust between Helsinki and Moscow in an “irreversible” way.

Moscow attacked the neighboring state in late February, following Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements signed in 2014, and Russia’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German and French brokered Minsk Protocol was designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.
Russia has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two regions by force.

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