Finland’s leaders on Thursday came out in favour of applying to join NATO, and Sweden could do the same within days, in a historic realignment on the continent two-and-a-half months after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Kremlin reacted by warning it will be forced to take retaliatory “military-technical” steps.
On the ground, meanwhile, Russian forces pounded areas in Ukraine’s east, including the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol, as part its offensive to take the vital industrial Donbas region, while Ukraine recaptured some towns and villages in the northeast.
Finland’s President and Prime Minister announced that the Nordic country should apply right away for membership in NATO, the military defence pact founded in part to counter the Soviet Union.
This means Finland is all but certain to apply — and gain admission — though the process could take months to complete. Sweden, likewise, is considering applying for membership.
That would represent a major shift in Europe's security landscape: Sweden has avoided military alliances for more than 200 years, while Finland adopted neutrality after its defeat by the Soviets in World War II.
Such an expansion of the alliance would leave Russia surrounded by NATO countries in the Baltic Sea and the Arctic and would amount to a stinging setback for Mr. Putin, who had hoped to divide and roll back NATO in Europe but is instead seeing the exact opposite happen.