Finland is a big step closer to joining NATO after President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin threw their support behind membership Thursday morning. "NATO membership would strengthen Finland's security," they said in a statement. "As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance. Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay. We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days."
Before Russia invaded Ukraine, public support for joining NATO was consistently below 30 percent. Now it is at 76 percent, according to the latest opinion poll.
Before Finland applies for membership, NATO accession needs a majority vote in parliament. One member of Finland's parliament, Johannes Koskinen, told CNN he expects the measure to pass easily as early as next week. "Maybe around 180 out of 200 [MPs] are in favor of membership," he said. NATO would then formally invite Finland to join.
Barring any surprises, "Finland will soon be a NATO territory — doubling the length of the NATO-Russia border," BBC News notes. "It means that NATO will only be a two- to three-hour drive to St Petersburg — the home city of Vladimir Putin. The very thing that Putin has sought for years to prevent — NATO expansion — is the very thing he has now brought about."
Sweden's leaders are expected to announce their stance on joining NATO this weekend. The countries have said they would likely apply at the same time. NATO said it would welcome both Finland and Sweden into the alliance quickly and take interim steps to protect them from Russian retaliation.