BERLIN — Finland declared Sunday that it wants to join NATO, as a senior official with the western military alliance expressed hope that — with Russia’s military advance appearing to falter — Ukraine can win the war.
President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin made the announcement that Finland would seek membership of NATO during a joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki. The previously neutral Nordic country shares a long border with Russia.
“This is a historic day. A new era begins,” Niinisto said.
The Finnish Parliament is expected to endorse the decision in coming days. A formal membership application will then be submitted to NATO headquarters in Brussels, most likely at some point next week.
The announcement came as top diplomats from the 30 NATO member states met in Berlin to discuss providing further support to Ukraine and moves by Finland, Sweden and others to join NATO in the face of threats from Russia.
“The brutal invasion (by) Russia is losing momentum,” NATO Deputy-Secretary General Mircea Geoana told reporters early Sunday.
“We know that with the bravery of the Ukrainian people and army, and with our help, Ukraine can win this war,” he said.
Geoana, who was chairing the meeting while NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg recovers from a COVID-19 infection, said Ukraine’s supporters were “united, we are strong, will continue to help Ukraine in winning this war.”
Sweden has also already taken steps toward joining the alliance, while Georgia’s bid is again being discussed despite dire warnings from Moscow about the consequences if its neighbor becomes part of NATO.
“Finland and Sweden are already the closest partners of NATO,” Geoana said, adding that he expected allies to view their applications positively.
Nordic NATO member Norway said it strongly welcomed Finland’s decision to seek membership. Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt described Helsinki’s move as “a turning point” for the Nordic region’s defense and security policies.
“Finnish membership in NATO will be good for Finland, good for the Nordic region, and good for NATO. Finland has Norway’s full support,” Huitfeldt said in comments emailed to The Associated Press.
Huitfeldt said the Norwegian government would facilitate “a swift consent to ratification by the Norwegian Parliament” for Finland’s accession into NATO.
“We are now seeing unprecedented unity in NATO. With the Finnish membership, we will further strengthen the Nordic flank of the military alliance,” Huitfeldt said.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said her country and others made clear during a dinner late Saturday that they would be willing to fast-track the national ratification process for both Finland and Sweden.
“If these two countries are deciding to join, they can join very quickly,” she said.
Denmark’s foreign minister dismissed suggestions that objections from Russian President Vladimir Putin could hinder the alliance from letting in new members.
“Each and every European country has a fundamental right to choose their own security arrangement,” Jeppe Kofod told reporters.
“We see now a world where the enemy of democracy number one is Putin and the thinking that he represents,” he said, adding that NATO would also stand with other countries, such as Georgia, which he said were being “instrumentalized” by Russia.
On the sidelines of the meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met earlier Sunday with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba to discuss the impact of the war and how to get Ukraine’s grain to international markets.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Blinken “underscored the United States’ enduring commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s unprovoked war.”
Britain’s top diplomat said NATO members would also discuss security issues beyond Europe during their meeting Sunday — a reference to growing unease among democratic nations about the rise of China.
“As well as protecting Euro-Atlantic security, we also need to watch out for Indo-Pacific security,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said.
The meeting follows a gathering of foreign ministers from the Group of Seven leading economies on Germany’s Baltic Sea coast this week. Officials there expressed strong support for Ukraine and warned that Russia’s blockade of grain exports from Ukrainian ports risks stoking a global food crisis.
More Must-Read Stories From TIME