Previously neutral Nordic country shares a long border with Russia, and intends to apply for NATO membership, in a historic policy shift prompted by Moscow's offensive in Ukraine.

Annalena Baerbock, Foreign Minister of Germany, opens the first session at the meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Berlin, Germany, May 15, 2022.
Annalena Baerbock, Foreign Minister of Germany, opens the first session at the meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Berlin, Germany, May 15, 2022. (AP)

The president and government of Finland have announced that the previously neutral Nordic country that shares a long border with Russia intends to apply for membership in NATO, paving the way for the 30-member Western military alliance to expand.

President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin made the announcement at a joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki on Sunday.

"This is a historic day. A new era begins," Niinisto said.

The Finnish Parliament is expected to endorse the decision in the coming days, but it is considered a formality.

A formal membership application will then be submitted to NATO headquarters in Brussels, most likely at some point next week.

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 neighbour becomes part of NATO.

'Fundamental right to choose'

"Finland and Sweden are already the closest partners of NATO," NATO Deputy-Secretary General Mircea Geoana told reporters, adding that he expected allies to view their applications positively.

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 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 "instrumentalised" by Russia.

Top NATO diplomats are meeting in Berlin on Sunday to discuss providing further support to Ukraine and moves by Finland, Sweden and others to join NATO in the face of threats from Russia.

Britain's top diplomat said NATO members would also discuss security issues beyond Europe during their meeting – 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.

READ MORE: Türkiye discusses Sweden, Finland NATO bid in trilateral meeting

Source: AP