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Finland will apply to join NATO, leaders say, ditching decades of neutrality despite Russia's threats of retaliation

(CNN)Finland's government announced Sunday it will apply to join NATO, ditching decades of wartime neutrality and ignoring Russian threats of possible retaliation as the Nordic country attempts to strengthen its security following the onset of the war in Ukraine.

The decision was announced at a joint press conference on Sunday with President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who said the move must be ratified by the country's parliament before it can go forward.
"We hope that the parliament will confirm the decision to apply for NATO membership," Marin said during a press conference in Helsinki Sunday. "During the coming days. It will be based on a strong mandate, with the President of the Republic. We have been in close contact with governments of NATO member states and NATO itself."
The move would bring the US-led military alliance up to Finland's 830-mile border with Russia, but could take months to finalize as legislatures of all 30 current members must approve new applicants.
It also risks provoking Russia's ire, whose President Vladimir Putin told his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinistö on Saturday that abandoning military neuterality and joining the bloc would be a "mistake," according to a Kremlin statement. On Saturday, Russia cut its electricity supply to the Nordic country following problems in receiving payments.
Since the end of World War II, during which Finland was invaded by the Soviet Union, the country has been militarily non-aligned and nominally neutral in order to avoid provoking Russia. It has indulged the Kremlin's security concerns at times and tried to maintain good trading relations.
The invasion of Ukraine has changed that calculation.
On Saturday, Niinistö called to inform Putin of Finland's intentions to join the bloc, saying "the Russian demands in late 2021 aiming at preventing countries from joining NATO and Russia's massive invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 have altered the security environment of Finland," according to a statement from the Finnish president's office.
Sweden has expressed similar frustrations and is also expected to make a similar move to join NATO.
Both countries already meet many of the criteria for NATO membership, which include having a functioning democratic political system based on a market economy; treating minority populations fairly; committing to resolve conflicts peacefully; the ability and willingness to make a military contribution to NATO operations; and committing to democratic civil-military relations and institutions.
NATO member Turkey, which has presented itself as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, has expressed reservations about integrating Finland and Sweden to the alliance. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday he is not looking at Finland and Sweden joining NATO "positively," accusing both counties of housing Kurdish "terrorist organizations."

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