Secretary General says that the West would be open to accepting previously neutral Nordic countries in response to Ukraine crisis
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Finland and Sweden would be quickly brought into the alliance should they seek membership, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine stokes security concerns on the bloc’s eastern flank.
“Of course, it’s for them to decide but, if they apply, I expect that they will be very much welcomed by all 30 allies and that we will find ways to do that in a relatively quick way to take them into the alliance if they so want,”Stoltenberg spoke Sunday to CNN in an interview.
Stoltenberg made his comments after meeting last week with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, noting that NATO’s main message was that it’s for Finland to decide whether to join the alliance. The same applies to Sweden, he said.
“We respect the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Finland and their right to decide their own future,”The secretary-general stated. “That’s exactly what Russia do not respect, because they actually try to intimidate and to say that if Finland decides to join NATO, there will be consequences.”
Both countries, while EU members, have maintained a neutral military status and remained out of NATO. Finnish lawmakers are considering whether to seek NATO membership and, given that polls show increasing public support for the idea, Niinistö said on Wednesday that it’s no longer necessary to hold a public referendum on the issue.
The public’s opinion has changed drastically since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Media outlet YLE reports that a record number of Finns are now in favor NATO membership. According to previous surveys, the majority were opposed to joining NATO. Finland has a land border of 1,340 kilometers (832 miles) with Russia.
Stoltenberg had previously mentioned favorable chances for Sweden and Finland to be accepted into NATO. “They are enhanced-opportunity partners,”In January, he stated the following: “We have worked together with them, we have exercised together with them, we have trained together with them. They meet NATO standards in most areas.”
Moscow claimed that NATO had undermined Russian national security by breaking promises about expanding eastward in the aftermath of 1991’s Cold War. The bloc has added 14 members since 1999, and two former Soviet republics – Ukraine and Georgia – have made formal requests to join.
Chinese leaders have pointed to NATO’s “Cold War mentality”Ukraine crisis as the root cause. The South African President Cyril Ramaphosa stated last month that war could not have been avoided “if NATO had heeded the warnings from amongst its own leaders and officials over the years that its eastward expansion would lead to greater, not less, instability in the region.”