The head of Nato declared that Finland and Sweden would increase Europe’s security as the two Nordic countries formally submitted their applications to join the transatlantic defence alliance.
“This is a good day at a critical moment for our security,” Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday as the Finish and Swedish ambassadors handed in their requests at a ceremony at Nato’s headquarters in Brussels. He added: “You are our closest partners and your membership in Nato would increase our shared security.”
The momentous decision by Helsinki and Stockholm to pursue membership of the alliance comes after Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, a non-Nato member that shares a border with Russia, upturned decades of security thinking in the two Nordic countries.
Nato will take one to two weeks to review their applications before making both countries formal invitees, according to officials. All 30 existing Nato members would then have to ratify the applications, a process that is estimated will take four to 12 months.
Turkey has threatened to block the countries from joining the alliance, and Stoltenberg stressed that “the security interest of all allies have to be taken into account”. He pledged that Nato was “determined to work through all issues and reach rapid conclusions”.
Finland’s president Sauli Niinistö and Sweden’s prime minister Magdalena Andersson will visit US president Joe Biden on Thursday in an attempt to get his backing for rapid ratification and attempt to overcome the Turkish opposition.
US senators have said they hoped to approve the Nordic Nato applications before their recess in August. Niinistö said: “If we have a quick process there, it helps the whole process and timetable.”
Finland and Sweden have been eager to gain security assurances, with the UK, Norway, Denmark and Iceland agreeing to come to their aid if they were attacked before becoming members of Nato and being subject to its collective defence pledge.
Stoltenberg said: “Nato is already vigilant in the Baltic Sea region and Nato and allied forces will continue to adapt as necessary. All allies agree on the importance of Nato enlargement. We all agree that we must stand together, and we all agree that this is a historic moment that we all must seize.”
Niinistö said during a state visit to Sweden on Tuesday that the countries had been encouraged by the mild reaction by Putin and his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to their Nato applications, with both Russian officials appearing to suggest Moscow would tolerate Finland and Sweden joining the alliance.
“Why? We can ask,” said Niinistö, adding: “Maybe Russia doesn’t want to tell its people that we have new problems.”
Finnish and Swedish membership of the alliance would more than double Nato’s borders with Russia, but would make it easier for it to defend the three Baltic states, its most vulnerable point.
All three Baltic countries have welcomed the membership requests, but also stressed that Nato needed to agree to increase their own security at its crucial Madrid summit at the end of June by sending more troops and beefing up its air policing mission.