Finland Announces Plan to Join NATO, Risking Russia's Wrath

Finland said it plans to join NATO, and Nordic neighbor Sweden is expected to make a similar announcement soon.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin released a joint statement announcing the decision on Thursday.

The statement reads: "During this spring, an important discussion on Finland's possible NATO membership has taken place. Time has been needed to let Parliament and the whole society establish their stands on the matter. Time has been needed for close international contacts with NATO and its member countries, as well as with Sweden. We have wanted to give the discussion the space it required.

"Now that the moment of decision-making is near, we state our equal views, also for information to the parliamentary groups and parties. NATO membership would strengthen Finland's security. As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defence alliance. Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay. We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days."

A key partner to NATO already, Finland has moved to join the Trans-Atlantic alliance amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, as the Kremlin's increasingly aggressive foreign policy raised concerns over the conflict bleeding into the rest of Europe. NATO's Article 5 guarantees that an attack on one NATO ally is an attack on all.

In a statement emailed to Newsweek, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Finland's announcement.

"This is a sovereign decision by Finland, which NATO fully respects," the statement reads. "Should Finland decide to apply, they would be warmly welcomed into NATO, and the accession process would be smooth and swift."

Finland's Sauli Niinisto addresses a press conference
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto addresses a press conference with the British Prime Minister at the Presidential palace in Helsinki on May 11, 2022. Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin released a joint statement announcing the decision to apply for NATO membership. ANTTI AIMO-KOIVISTO/Lehtikuva/AFP via Getty Images

Stoltenberg continued: "Finland is one of NATO's closest partners, a mature democracy, a member of the European Union, and an important contributor to Euro-Atlantic security. I agree with President Niinistö and Prime Minister Marin that NATO membership would strengthen both NATO and Finland's security.

"Finnish membership would demonstrate that NATO's door is open, and that Finland decides its own future."

Newsweek has contacted Russia's Foreign Ministry for comment.

When NATO was established in 1949, two years into the Cold War, Finland and Sweden decided not to join it.

Finland—which shares a border of more than 800 miles with Russia—signed an agreement of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance with Russia in 1948. The pact saw Finland pledge to isolate itself militarily from Western Europe.

Russia has threatened "serious military-political repercussions" if Finland and Sweden were to join NATO, and has said the move "will not bring stability" to Europe.

In the event both Nordic countries moved to join NATO, the Kremlin said it would bolster its forces in the Baltic Sea region, as well as floated potentially deploying nuclear weapons in the area.

Sweden is expected to follow Finland in the decision to apply for NATO membership, effectively ending over 200 years of military non-alignment.

On Wednesday, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced he had signed security agreements with Finland and Sweden, pledging to support the nations—including militarily—if they come under attack.

Recent polls conducted in Finland found the majority of Finns would approve of their country becoming a NATO member. A March poll by Finnish think tank Eva found this support has drastically increased this year, having shot up from 26 percent in 2021 to 60 percent in 2022.

Until recently, public support for Finland joining NATO had not surfaced above 28 percent since 1998, the year Eva began gathering this data.

The chart below depicts figures from Eva's findings.

Finland NATO polls
Responses to the Question "Should Finland Join NATO?". Finland announced on May 12, 2022 that it plans to join NATO. Eva Analysis

Update 05/12/22, 4:18 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include additional information.

Update 05/12/22, 5:14 a.m. ET: This article was updated to indicate Newsweek had sought comment from NATO and Russian authorities.

Update 05/12/22, 6:30 a.m. ET: This article was updated with a statement from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and additional context on public opinion in Finland.