Finland poised for Nato membership as Ukraine crisis throttles Russian gas supply

Country's entry to organisation will be 'smooth and swift', Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg says


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Nato General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg promises a smooth entry for Finland. – AFP
Nato General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg promises a smooth entry for Finland. – AFP

Published: Thu 12 May 2022, 8:48 PM

Last updated: Thu 12 May 2022, 8:52 PM

Finland on Thursday took a step towards fast-track membership of NATO, triggering a blunt warning from the Kremlin, as the war in Ukraine throttled supplies of Russian gas to Europe.

Announcing a seismic change in policy since Russia attacked its neighbour in February, Finland's leaders declared their nation must apply to join Nato "without delay."

"Nato membership would strengthen Finland's security," President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said in a joint statement in Helsinki.

"As a member of Nato, Finland would strengthen the entire defence alliance."

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned Russia would "definitely" see Finnish membership as a threat.

The Russian foreign ministry said Moscow would be "forced to take reciprocal steps, military-technical and other, to address the resulting threats to its national security."

In launching the attack of Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin cited in part what he called the threat from Nato, which expanded eastwards after the Cold War.

The foreign ministry accused Nato of seeking to create "another flank for the military threat to our country."

"Helsinki should be aware of its responsibility and the consequences of such a move," it said.

Finland has been a declared neutral in East-West crises for decades, and as recently as January its leaders ruled out Nato membership of the alliance.

But the February 24 attack shocked the Nordic nation.

It shares a 1,300-kilometre (800-mile) border with Russia and its past is studded with conflict with its giant neighbour.

Natrohas already declared it will warmly embrace the two countries with deep pockets and well-equipped armies.

Finland's entry will be "smooth and swift," Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg promised on Thursday.

Germany, France and the powerful US Senate Foreign Relations Committee also strongly voiced their support, and Britain has already pledged its assistance.

A special committee will announce Finland's formal decision on a membership bid on Sunday. Sweden, another neutral state, is widely expected to follow its neighbour.

Russia's flow of gas to Europe fell meanwhile, spurring fears for Germany and other heavily-dependent economies.

Russian energy giant Gazprom announced it would stop supplying gas via the Polish part of the Yamal-Europe pipeline following retaliatory sanctions that Russia slapped on Western companies on Wednesday.

Gazprom also said gas transiting to Europe via Ukraine had dropped by a third - a fall it blamed on Ukraine's pipeline operator, which the company denies, pointing the finger at Russia.

Ukraine and Poland are major supply routes for Russian gas to Europe and the two sides have kept flows going despite the conflict.

The European Union's heavy reliance on Russian energy has made it reluctant to add oil and gas imports to sanctions that are inflicting a toll on Russia's economy.

"The situation is coming to a head," German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said.

The EU is struggling to overcome Hungarian resistance for plans to ban Russian oil.

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