Russia has slammed Finland's plans to apply to join NATO imminently, claiming it would "be forced" to retaliate if the long-neutral country joined the military alliance.
"Finland joining NATO is a radical change in the country's foreign policy," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Thursday. "Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps, both of a military-technical and other nature, in order to stop threats to its national security arising."
The statement comes shortly after Finland's president, Sauli Niinisto, and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said the country should apply to join NATO "without delay."
It's is the strongest sign yet that Finland will make a formal application to join NATO. Membership would be historic for the Nordic country, which has had a decadeslong policy of military neutrality.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 has shifted countries like Finland's and Sweden's calculus on NATO membership, with the latter also seriously considering lodging an application to join the alliance.
Niinisto said Russia's invasion of Ukraine had changed Finland's security situation although there was no immediate threat.
"NATO membership would strengthen Finland's security," the leaders said in their statement, adding that membership would in turn "strengthen the entire defence alliance."
There are fears that further expansion of NATO — one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's biggest bugbears — could prompt an aggressive response from Russia, which shares an 830-mile long border with Finland.
As such, if Finland does join the military alliance, the land border that Russia shares with NATO territories would roughly double. Russia has land borders with 14 countries and five of them are NATO members: Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland and Norway.
Russia's Foreign Ministry on Thursday claimed that "the goal of NATO, whose member countries vigorously convinced the Finnish side that there was no alternative to membership in the alliance, is clear — to continue expanding towards the borders of Russia, to create another flank for a military threat to our country."
Russia has insisted that Finland's policy of military nonalignment "served as the basis for stability" in Northern Europe but that now, "Helsinki must be aware of the responsibility and consequences of such a move."
NATO — or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — was founded in 1949 by the U.S., Canada, and several Western European nations to provide collective security against modern Russia's forebear, the Soviet Union.
Ever since its foundation, the alliance has had a thorny relationship with the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War, and following its collapse in 1991, the Russian Federation.
Finland did not join NATO when it was founded and its public has — until now — largely supported its neutral position to maintain peaceful relations with Russia. In fact, it signed a peace treaty with the Soviet Union in 1947 and a further "friendship treaty" in 1992 to build upon this policy.
In recent years, however, Finland and Sweden have both grown closer to NATO, taking part in some operations and missions led by the alliance.
Russia said that Finland joining NATO would violate a previous agreement, which it said "provides for the obligation of the parties not to enter into alliances or participate in coalitions directed against one of them." It also said the 1992 accord would also be violated.
"We will react according to the situation," Russia's Foreign Ministry concluded in its statement.
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