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Finland and Sweden officially apply to join NATO despite Russia's warnings

Putin defends Ukraine war in "Victory Day" speech
Putin defends Ukraine war in "Victory Day" speech 03:36

Brussels — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that Finland and Sweden have formally applied to join the world's biggest military alliance, a move driven by security concerns over Russia's war in Ukraine.

"I warmly welcome the requests by Finland and Sweden to join NATO. You are our closest partners," Stoltenberg told reporters after a receiving their application letters from the two Nordic countries' ambassadors. 

"All allies agree on the importance of NATO enlargement. We all agree that we must stand together, and we all agree that this is an historic moment which we must seize. This is a good day at a critical moment for our security," a beaming Stoltenberg said, as he stood alongside the two envoys, with NATO, Finnish and Swedish flags at their backs.

The application must now be weighed by the 30 member countries. That process is expected to take about two weeks, although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed reservations about Finland and Sweden joining.

If his objections are overcome, and accession talks go as well as expected, the two could become members within a few months. The process usually takes eight to 12 months, but NATO wants to move quickly given the threat from Russia hanging over the Nordic countries' heads.

Canada, for example, says that it expects to ratify their accession protocol in just a few days. President Biden said in a statement he welcomes and supports Finland and Sweden's applications for NATO membership. Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö are set to meet with Mr. Biden at the White House on Thursday.

"Finland and Sweden are longtime, stalwart partners of the United States," the president said. "By joining NATO, they will further strengthen our defense cooperation and benefit the entire Transatlantic Alliance."

Mr. Biden said that while Finland and Sweden's applications are being considered, the U.S. will work with the two nations "to remain vigilant against any threats to our shared security, and to deter and confront aggression or the threat of aggression."

NATO holds ceremony to mark Sweden's and Finland's application for membership in Brussels
Finland's Ambassador to NATO Klaus Korhonen, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Sweden's Ambassador to NATO Axel Wernhoff attend a ceremony  in Brussels, Belgium to mark Sweden's and Finland's formal applications for NATO membership, on May 18, 2022. JOHANNA GERON / REUTERS

Public opinion in Finland and Sweden has shifted massively in favor of membership since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Finland and Sweden are NATO's closest partners. They have functioning democracies, well-funded armed forces and contribute to the alliance's military operations and air policing. Any obstacles they face would merely be of a technical, or possibly political nature.

Russia, and its president Vladimir Putin in particular, has long considered NATO a threat. The Kremlin has defended its war in Ukraine partly as a means of pushing the Western alliance back further from its borders — a tactic which, given Finland and Sweden's accession bids, appears to have backfired spectacularly.

Moscow has threatened to react with unspecified "military-technical measures" should the Nordic states commit the "grave mistake" of joining NATO. The Kremlin warned that "the general level of military tensions will increase" in Europe if the alliance does expand on Russia's doorstep.   

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