BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that Finland and Sweden would be embraced with open arms should they decide to join the 30-nation military organization and could become members quite quickly.
Stoltenberg’s remarks came as public support in Finland and Sweden for NATO membership mounts in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Media speculation in the two countries suggest the two might apply in mid-May.
“It’s their decision,” Stoltenberg said. “But if they decide to apply, Finland and Sweden will be warmly welcomed, and I expect that process to go quickly.”
He gave no precise time frame, but did say that the two could expect some protection should Russia try to intimidate them from the time their membership applications are made until they formally join.
Stoltenberg said he’s “confident that there are ways to bridge that interim period in a way which is good enough and works for both Finland and Sweden.”
NATO’s collective security guarantee ensures that all member countries must come to the aid of any ally under attack. Stoltenberg added that many NATO allies have now pledged and provided a total of at least $8 billion in military support to Ukraine.
Before launching the war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded that NATO stop expanding and pull its troops back from Russia’s borders. So the prospect of neighboring Finland, and Sweden, joining the trans-Atlantic alliance is unlikely to be welcomed in Moscow.
Finland has a conflict-ridden history with Russia, with which it shares a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border. Finns have taken part in dozens of wars against their eastern neighbor, for centuries as part of the Swedish Kingdom, and as an independent nation including two fought with the Soviet Union from 1939-40 and 1941-44.
In the postwar period, however, Finland pursued pragmatic political and economic ties with Moscow, remaining militarily nonaligned and a neutral buffer between East and West.
Sweden has avoided military alliances for more than 200 years, choosing a path of peace after centuries of warfare with its neighbors.
Both countries put an end to traditional neutrality by joining the European Union in 1995 and deepening cooperation with NATO. However, a majority of people in both countries remained firmly against full membership in the alliance — until now.