Kyiv, Ukraine: Finland on Thursday took a step towards fast-track membership of NATO, triggering a warning from the Kremlin, as the war in Ukraine throttled supplies of Russian gas to Europe.
“Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay,” President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced in a statement in Helsinki.
“NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security,” they said.
“As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defence alliance.”
But Russia warned Finnish membership of NATO would “definitely” be seen as a threat.
“The expansion of NATO and the approach of the alliance to our borders does not make the world and our continent more stable and secure,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
In launching the invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin cited in part what he called the threat to Russia from NATO, which expanded eastwards after the Cold War.
Finland’s embrace of the alliance was ruled out as recently as January, for the country has been a declared neutral in East-West crises for decades.
But the February 24 invasion shocked the Nordic country.
It shares a 1,300-kilometre (800-mile) border with Russia and its past is studded with conflict with its giant neighbour.
The Atlantic alliance has already declared it will warmly embrace two countries with rich pockets and advanced militaries.
Finland’s entry will be “smooth and swift,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg promised on Thursday.
A special committee will announce Finland’s formal decision on a membership bid on Sunday.
Sweden, another neutral state, is widely expected to follow its neighbour.
Fears grew meanwhile of the broader economic impact from the crisis.
Russian energy giant Gazprom said that gas transiting to Ukraine to Europe dropped by a third after Kyiv suspended supplies through a key route.
Germany said Wednesday that it saw a 25 percent drop in supplies of Russian gas flowing through Ukraine.
Ukraine is a major supply route for Russian gas to Europe and the two sides have kept flows going despite the conflict.
The European Union’s heavy reliance on Russian gas has made it reluctant to add these imports to a list of economic sanctions that have started to take a toll on Moscow’s foreign exchange reserves.
Moscow has focused on eastern and southern Ukraine since it failed to take Kyiv in the first weeks of its campaign
Moscow has focused on eastern and southern Ukraine since it failed to take Kyiv in the first weeks of its campaign Yasuyoshi CHIBA AFP
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, in a rhetorical blast from Tokyo, said Russia “is today the most direct threat to the world order with the barbaric war against Ukraine”.