May 18 (UPI) — Finland and Sweden formally submitted their applications to join the NATO military alliance early Wednesday, ending the Nordic nations’ decades of military neutrality in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Ambassadors Klaus Korhonen of Finland and Axel Wernoff of Sweden handed their applications to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels during a brief press conference, officially initiating the membership process that could take several months to complete.
“This is a good day at a critical moment in our security,” Stoltenberg said. “And I warmly welcome the requests from Finland and Sweden to join NATO.”
The 30 member states will now consider the applications in regards to their own security interests, with Stoltenberg projecting confidence during the press conference that they would work through any issues quickly.
“All allies agree on the importance of NATO enlargement. We all agree we must stand together and we all agree that this is a historic moment, which we must cease,” he said.
The countries have historically maintained a stance of military neutrality while maintaining relationships with the NATO alliance. Their rapid move toward joining the defensive pact began Feb. 24 when Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, bringing war to Europe.
Russia has blamed NATO expansion, specifically concerns of the alliance gaining a home in Ukraine, as reason for its bloody incursion and it has volleyed threats at Finland and Sweden over seeking membership, stating them doing so represents a national security threat.
Finland’s membership would not only increase the number of NATO nations bordering Russia but also drastically increase the length of Moscow’s shared border with the military alliance. Finland and Russia share a more than 800-mile border.
Stoltenberg seemingly commented on the threats, stating that several ally nations have committed to the security of Finland and Sweden.
Baltic NATO member states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were quick to voice support for including Sweden and Finland in the alliance, saying their accession “will enhance our collective security and strengthen the alliance.”
“The Baltic States together with Finland and Sweden share the responsibility for peaceful, secure and prosperous Nordic Baltic region,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, Latvian Prime Minister Arturs Krisjanis Karins and Lithuania Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said in a joint statement produced moments after the application announcement was made.
“The accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO will help to achieve these goals and open new opportunities for our countries for closer and stronger cooperation in the fields of security and defense.”
In a show of support, U.S. President Joe Biden will welcome Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto at the White House on Thursday, his press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, said Tuesday in a statement.
The world leaders are expected to discuss the applications, European security and strengthening their nations’ partnerships, she said.
The two countries formally submitted their applications a day after Finland’s parliament overwhelmingly voted to join the military pact and Sweden signed its formal request for membership to the alliance.
Andersson signaled the close relationship between their two countries stating that they will proceed down the NATO path together.
“Finland has a special position for Sweden,” Andersson said in a statement on Facebook. “When we now apply for NATO membership, we do it together with Finland.”
Ankara has criticized the Nordic nations’ support for Kurdish militants in Syria that it views as terrorists.
In a speech before Sweden’s parliament Tuesday, Niinisto said he was sure that a solution will be found through constructive discussion.
“Now that we have made our decision, the power will be handed over to NATO and its current member countries. We hope that all member states will give their support,” he said. “We expect to sign the accession protocols soon, after which we hope for swift ratification by national parliaments of the member states.”