Russia warns of ‘military’ retaliation measures; Sweden likely to follow Helsinki’s suit

Flag of Finland. Image taken from Internet
Finland must apply to join the Nato military alliance "without delay", its president and prime minister said yesterday, in a historic policy shift triggered by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Moscow said the move was a threat to it and warned it was ready to respond. But Finland's neighbour Sweden is also close to a decision on asking to join Nato after decades of following a neutral path.

Russia has partly tried to justify its invasion of Ukraine as a means to protect itself from Nato's eastwards expansion.

However, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said Russian President Vladimir Putin was responsible for Helsinki's decision. "You caused this. Look at the mirror," he said prior to yesterday's announcement.

"Nato membership would strengthen Finland's security. As a member of Nato, Finland would strengthen the entire defence alliance," said a joint statement by Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin.

After the announcement, Niinisto spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who lauded Finland's readiness to apply for Nato membership.

The Finnish parliament will debate the announcement on Monday. A majority of lawmakers have already signalled their support for membership.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said any accession process would be "smooth and swift" and that Finland "would be warmly welcomed".

Neighbouring Sweden, which like Finland has been military non-aligned for decades, is also expected to announce its decision in the coming days, very likely at a meeting on Sunday of Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson's Social Democratic Party.

Russia, which had repeatedly warned both countries against joining the alliance, said yesterday a Finnish entry into Nato was "definitely" a threat to it.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: "Nato expansion does not make our continent more stable and secure."

Everyone wanted to avoid a direct clash between Nato and Russia but Moscow was prepared to make a "decisive response" to any side that tried to hinder Russia's operation in Ukraine, he said.

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

Poland and the Baltics welcomed Finland's announcement. Pentagon said it would not be difficult to integrate Finland into Nato, reports Reuters.

Russian forces continued to pound areas in Ukraine's northern region. Three people were killed and 12 others wounded in the early hours of yesterday in a Russian strike on a school in Chernigiv.

The UN Human Rights Council yesterday passed a resolution to set up an inquiry into the allegations of abuses by Russian troops in Ukraine.

Pressure on Europe to secure alternative gas supplies increased yesterday after Moscow imposed sanctions on European subsidiaries of state-owned Gazprom and Ukraine stopped a gas transit route, pushing prices higher.

"It has to be said that the situation is coming to a head, in such a way that the use of energy as a weapon is now being realised in several areas," German Economy Minister Robert Habeck told a press conference.

The number of people who have fled Ukraine to escape Russia's invasion has passed six million in Europe's worst refugee crisis since the end of World War Two, UN refugee agency said.