Finland will apply to join NATO, abandoning decades of neutrality despite Russia’s threats of retaliation

The decision was announced Sunday at a joint press conference with President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who said the move must be ratified by the country’s parliament before it can move forward.

“We hope that the parliament confirms the decision to apply for NATO membership,” Marin said during a press conference held in Helsinki on Sunday. “In the coming days. It will be based on a strong mandate, with the President of the Republic. We have been in close contact with the governments of the NATO member states and NATO itself.”

The move would take the US-led military alliance to Finland’s 830-mile border with Russia, but it could take months to finalize as the legislatures of all 30 current members must approve new candidates.

It also risks provoking the wrath of Russia, whose President Vladimir Putin told his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinistö on Saturday that abandoning military neutrality and joining the bloc would be a “mistake,” according to a Kremlin statement. On Saturday, Russia cut off the electricity supply to the Nordic country following problems in receiving payments.

Since the end of World War II, during which Finland was invaded by the Soviet Union, the country has been militarily unaligned and nominally neutral to avoid provoking Russia. At times he indulged in the Kremlin’s security concerns and tried to maintain good trade relations.

The invasion of Ukraine changed this calculation.

What you need to know about Finland, Sweden and NATO

On Saturday, Niinistö called to inform Putin of Finland’s intentions to join the bloc, saying “Russian demands at the end of 2021 aimed at preventing countries from joining NATO and the massive Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 have altered the ‘Finland’s security environment,’ according to a statement from the Finnish president’s office.

Sweden has expressed similar frustrations and should also make a similar move to join NATO.

Both countries already meet many of the criteria for NATO membership, which include a functioning democratic political system based on a market economy; treat minority populations fairly; undertake to resolve conflicts peacefully; the ability and willingness to make a military contribution to NATO operations; and engaging in civilian-military democratic relationships and institutions.

NATO member Turkey, which presented itself as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, expressed reservations about the integration of Finland and Sweden into the alliance. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that he is not looking at Finland and Sweden joining NATO “positively”, accusing both counties of hosting Kurdish “terrorist organizations”.

CNN’s Joshua Berlinger contributed to this piece.