Finland, Sweden Apply to Join NATO as Russia Continues its Rampage on Ukraine

Finland and Sweden formally applied to join NATO on Wednesday, an action prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that has triggered one of the most significant changes in Europe’s security architecture in decades.

The applications came after more than 250 Ukrainian fighters surrendered to Russian forces at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol after weeks of resistance, bringing an end to the most devastating siege of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Finland and Sweden were both neutral throughout the Cold War and their decision to join NATO reflects the sweeping shift in the public opinion of the Nordic region since Russia’s February 24 invasion.

It also brings about an expansion of the Western alliance that Russian President Vladimir Putin had long invoked as one of the main justifications for ordering his “special military operation” in Ukraine in February.

“This is a historic moment, which we must seize,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at a ceremony in which the Swedish and Finnish ambassadors to the alliance handed over their bids.

Ratification of all 30 allied parliaments could take up to a year, diplomats say.

In a related development, Turkey has surprised its allies in recent days by saying it had reservations about the new prospective members, but Stoltenberg said he thought the issues could be overcome.

Ankara has said it wants the Nordic countries to halt support for Kurdish militant groups present on their territory and lift bans on some sales of arms to Turkey.

After weeks in which Russia threatened retaliation against NATO plans, Putin appeared to have no objection, saying in a speech on Monday that Russia had “no problems” with either Finland or Sweden, and that their NATO membership would not be an issue unless the alliance sent more troops or weapons there.

The steelworks’ surrender in Mariupol allowed Putin to claim a rare victory in a campaign that many military analysts say has stalled. 

While both sides spoke of a deal under which all Ukrainian troops would abandon the steelworks, many details were not disclosed, including how many fighters are remaining inside, and whether any deal for a prisoner swap had been agreed upon.

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