Finland Sunday confirmed it would apply for membership to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), thus changing the geopolitical scenario in Europe less than three months after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Sweden, which like Finland is run by a Social-Democrat government, followed suit shortly. A joint application with Finland is in Sweden's best interest, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said.
Although Finland's announcement still needs to be ratified in Parliament, it has already been felt like a game-changer for Moscow and the government of President Vladimir Putin.
We Social Democrats consider that the best for Sweden and the Swedish people's security is that we join NATO, Andersson said during a news conference Sunday in Stockholm. This is a decision that we have made after very careful consideration, she added.
The Social Democrats will thus work to ensure that Sweden, if the application is approved by NATO, expresses unilateral reservations against the deployment of nuclear weapons and permanent bases on Swedish territory, the party also said in a statement.
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin had made their own announcement hours earlier during a press conference in Helsinki. A lot has happened. This is a historic day. A new era is opening up. I would like to pay special attention to how democracy has worked in Finland, Niinistö said.
I mean Finnish people with their opinions, political parties, government, parliament. Together, they have given a test of the strength of democracy, he added.
Marin said her country hopes the ratification process would be as short as possible and it would go very smoothly. The vote to approve membership in NATO must be unanimous by the member nations. She made those remarks following Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's announcement that he would not favor the move.
We haven't had any indication in NATO that there would be any problems for Finland's or Sweden's membership, Marin explained. We are close partners to NATO, she also pointed out.
We have seen some statements that there are some questions still but I think it's very important that we will have these discussions with the countries, with the ministers and with the other leaders that we have, in a very calm manner and discuss all the issues that there may be, she elaborated.
Niinistö added that he was confused by Erdogan's comments because he had discussed it with his Turkish counterpart last month who said he would assess the application favorably.
I thanked him and he was very pleased receiving my thanks, Niinistö said. So you can understand that I am a bit confused.
Niinistö said he hopes Turkey would provide a very clear answer about its stance on Finland's membership and that he is prepared to have another discussion with Erdogan about the problems he has raised.
The president also pointed out that there has been a very good cooperation in the past between Finland and Russia, as well as Estonia, regarding oil tankers passing through the narrow Gulf of Finland.
Niinistö said he spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday to notify him of the country's intention to join NATO, to which the Russian leader allegedly replied that abandoning the traditional policy of military neutrality would be a mistake.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, the former prime minister of Norway, said during a press conference Sunday that the alliance would ensure a quick and swift response to the applications from Sweden and Finland. If Finland and Sweden apply and join NATO then that will be a historic moment for Europe, for Finland, Sweden, for NATO, and for a whole transatlantic bond, Stoltenberg added.
In 2008, NATO promised to give Ukraine full membership, which Putin has long seen as a threat. Ukraine joined NATO as a partner in June 2020 but does not currently benefit from collective defense agreements.