Speaking in the shadow of Moscow, Finland’s top diplomat on Thursday said its NATO membership "would bring added value" to the alliance, just after pressing to start procedures as soon as possible.
"Finland's NATO accession would strengthen the security and stability of the Baltic Sea region and Northern Europe," Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee.
“We are convinced that Finland would bring added value to NATO. Our wartime strength of the defense forces is 280,000 troops, and the trained reserve is 900,000 men and women,” he added.
Saying that Russia's war on Ukraine has "altered the European and Finnish security environment," Haavisto added that his country is "not facing an immediate military threat" but maintains that “national approval to maneuver and freedom of choice remain integral parts of finance, foreign security, and defense policy" for Finland.
Citing the Finnish president and prime minister's joint announcement Thursday that the country will seek NATO membership "without delay," Haavisto said: "This means that we are now fast approaching the point of national decision-making."
"Strengthening our ability to respond to new and emerging threats is an essential goal," he added.
Haavisto also said Finland is ready to closely cooperate with its neighbor Sweden in gaining NATO membership and on security matters, explaining that the two countries have "a lot of common exercises, common military planning."
Noting that NATO membership has been an option for Finland for some two decades, he added that public support was very low until Russia launched its war on Ukraine.
Finland shares a 1,300-kilometer (810-mile) border with Russia, and early in World War II it fiercely defended itself from a Soviet invasion.
The country maintained strict military neutrality during the Cold War but in 1995 struck a partnership agreement with NATO.
After Russia launched a war against neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, support for NATO membership in Finland and Sweden surged significantly.
If it joins, NATO would guarantee Finland’s collective security under Article 5, NATO’s nuclear umbrella, and common defense planning in Northern Europe.
Russia has repeatedly stated that Finland and its neighbor Sweden should not join NATO. Moscow has sought to justify its war on Ukraine by citing the possibility of the country joining NATO, even though the country’s membership process had just recently begun.
Support for Ukraine, accountability for Moscow
Saying that the international community as well as global organizations "have responded strongly to Russian aggression" on Ukraine, Haavisto added the "strong message of unity of the European Union and NATO, and close transatlantic coordination have been of key importance during the past months."
He further urged Russia and its representatives to be "held accountable for the consequences and effects of the illegal war of aggression, war crimes must be investigated."
Saying that Finland is responding to Russia's actions together with the EU, Haavisto stated that Finland has provided Ukraine with nearly €90 million in humanitarian aid and development assistance.
"We have also provided Ukraine with materials and arms assistance, further assistance is being prepared," he added.
At least 3,496 civilians have been killed and 3,760 others injured since Russia launched the war on Ukraine on Feb. 24, according to UN estimates. The true toll is feared to be much higher.
More than 5.98 million people have fled to other countries, with some 7.7 million people internally displaced, according to the UN refugee agency.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.