Finland’s president and the prime minister said on Thursday they were in favour of joining NATO and a formal decision would be taken this weekend, after Russia’s war in Ukraine sparked a swift u-turn in opinion.
“Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay,” President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said in a joint statement.
Niinisto has often served as a mediator between Russia and the West.
A special committee will announce Finland’s formal decision on a membership bid on Sunday, the statement added.
The two leaders had been widely expected to come out in favour of joining the Western military alliance.
Joining NATO would not be against anyone,” Niinisto told reporters on Wednesday, amid Russian warnings of consequences if Helsinki were to seek membership.
His response to Russia would be: “You caused this. Look in the mirror,” he said.
As recently as January, amid tensions between the West and Russia, Marin said a bid would be “very unlikely” during her current mandate, which ends in April 2023.
But after its powerful eastern neighbour invaded Ukraine on February 24, Finland’s political and public opinion swung dramatically in favour of membership as a deterrent against Russian aggression.
A poll published on Monday by public broadcaster Yle showed that a record 76 percent of Finns now support joining the alliance, up from the steady 20-30 percent registered in recent years.
Finland shares a 1,300-kilometre (800-mile) border with Russia and has been militarily non-aligned for decades.
In 1939, it was invaded by the Soviet Union.
Finns put up a fierce fight during the Winter War but were ultimately forced to cede a huge stretch of its eastern Karelia province in a peace treaty with Moscow.
Iro Sarkka, a NATO expert from the University of Helsinki, told AFP before the announcement that Niinisto, who had refrained from revealing his stance on membership, had nonetheless dropped hints that he was leaning toward supporting a bid.
On Wednesday, the Finnish parliament’s defense committee also concluded that membership in NATO would be the “best option” for Finland’s security, as the Russian invasion had eroded the security situation in Europe.