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Finland and Sweden’s path to NATO membership – the complexities and likely consequences

Finland has this morning announced its intention to apply for NATO membership – and Sweden is expected to follow.

Are there any sticking points?

Both are seeking guarantees that NATO member nations would defend them while any application is processed and until they become full members.

Ratification can take a year, NATO diplomats say, as parliaments of all 30 NATO countries need to approve new members.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said they could join “quickly” and that he is certain arrangements could be made for the interim period.

Finland’s announcement comes a day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited both countries to sign a military co-operation agreement.

The UK has pledged to come to the aid of Sweden and Finland if the two countries come under attack.

Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto has acknowledged filing a membership application in itself will not bring the two countries under the umbrella of NATO’s Article 5, which guarantees that an attack on one ally is an attack on all.

“But at the same time NATO member countries have an interest in that no security breaches would take place during the application period,” he said.

Finland could, for instance, hold enhanced military exercises with NATO members during that time.

He said this morning that Finland’s accession to NATO would strengthen security in the Baltic Sea region and northern Europe.

“We are convinced that Finland would bring added value to NATO,” he said, addressing EU politicians via videolink.

“Our war time strength of the defence forces is 280,000 troops, and the trained reserve is 900,000 men and women.”

What is Russia’s stance?

Moscow has repeatedly warned of “serious consequences” if Finland and Sweden join NATO.

It has said it would have to strengthen its land, naval and air forces in the Baltic Sea, and raised the possibility of deploying nuclear weapons in the area.

Russia and Finland share a 1,300-km (810-mile) border. The Kola Peninsula, in Arctic northwest Russia pointing eastward from the border with Finland and Norway, is a “strategic bastion” Moscow considers key for its national security, and is also the home of the Russian Northern Fleet.

Russia’s second biggest city – St Petersburg – also lies some 170km (105 miles) from the border with Finland.