Finland is just weeks away from submitting an application to join NATO despite Russian warnings that it would secure ‘the destruction of their country’, the former PM has said.
Alexander Stubb, who headed the Nordic country’s government in 2014 and 2015, said they could decide to join the military alliance as soon as May.
He told Axios: ‘There has been this bona fide attempt to forge a functioning relationship with Russia, and now that people see that that is impossible — especially under Putin — they’ve changed their opinion.’
Stubb dismissed Russian threats as sabre-rattling but acknowledged there will ‘obviously’ a spike in cyber attacks from the Kremlin.
But Russian lawmaker Vladimir Dzhabarov said this week that it is not likely ‘the Finns themselves will sign a card for the destruction of their country’, threatening a repeat of the Ukraine invasion which was sparked in part by its desire to join NATO.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov added yesterday if Finland and Sweden joined NATO then Russia would have to ‘rebalance the situation’ with its own measures in another thinly-veiled warning.
Alexander Stubb (pictured) said the Nordic country, which shares an 830-mile border with Russia, could decide to join the military alliance as soon as May
Russia has threatened a similar response to Finland as the horrors seen in Ukraine if it seeks to join NATO
A view of a residential building destroyed as a result of shellfire in Ukraine, which Russia has threatened on Finland
But Stubb said: ‘In the beginning of the war I said that Putin’s aggression will drive Finland and Sweden to apply for NATO membership.
‘I said it was not a matter of days or weeks, but months. Time to revise: Finland will apply within weeks, latest May. Sweden to follow, or at the same time.’
Polling shows there is a majority of support in Finland for joining the alliance, rising 34 points in months to a 62 per cent popularity.
Stubb said: ‘I think Finns at the moment are driven by what I call rational fear.
‘You have to balance between realism and idealism. Realism is that you have a strong standing military as we have, and idealism is to try to cooperate with a big neighbour.
‘We’ve lived next to Russia throughout our existence. We know how to deal with Russia.’
The prospect of Finland and Sweden joining NATO was part of the discussion between foreign ministers from the military alliance in Brussels this week.
Vladimir Dzhabarov from Russia’s upper house said Finland joining NATO would be asking for ‘the destruction of their country’
An elderly woman gestures as she sits in front of a destroyed building in the village of Obukhovychi, northern Ukraine
A resident looks for belongings in an apartment building destroyed during fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces in Borodyanka
The Russian retreat from towns near Kyiv has revealed scores of civilian deaths and the full extent of devastation from Russia’s failed attempt to seize the Ukrainian capital
‘Obviously this is going to be those countries’ choices to make,’ said the official, briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity.
‘The alliance’s open door remains open and there was discussion about that potential candidacy,’ the official said.
Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto told reporters earlier that Finland will clarify next steps in the coming weeks regarding a possible decision to seek NATO membership.
Senator Dzhabarov from Russia’s upper house said Finland joining the pact would be ‘a terrible tragedy.
He said: ‘If the leadership of Finland goes for it, it will be a strategic mistake.
‘Finland, which has been successfully developing all these years thanks to close trade and economic ties with Russia, would become a target.
‘I think it [would be] a terrible tragedy for the entire Finnish people.’
The senator added that it is not likely ‘the Finns themselves will sign a card for the destruction of their country’.
The threat made it clear Russia could carry out similar attacks in Finland as it has been waging in Ukraine
A man walks past a building damaged by shelling in Chernihiv, Ukraine, as Russia threatens similar destruction in Finland
Rescue workers remove the rubble from a residential area in Borodianka which has seen some of the worst shelling in Ukraine
Member countries have estimated it would take from four months to one year to approve the application.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin said earlier this week: ‘Both joining (NATO) and not joining are choices that have consequences.
‘We need to assess both the short-term and long-term effects. At the same time, we must keep in mind our goal: ensuring the security of Finland and Finns in all situations.’
Marin added that Finland’s relationship with neighbouring Russia has changed irreversibly after the assault on Ukraine, and ‘it takes a lot of time and work for confidence to be restored’.
Finland shares an 830-mile border with Russia, the longest by any European Union member.
It has remained militarily non-aligned, therefore not engaging in war or conflict, since the end of the Cold War for fear of provoking Moscow.
Haavisto previously said Russia’s actions in Ukraine have ‘totally changed the security landscape in Finland’.
He told Kyodo News that Finland must be prepared for ‘more negative military scenarios’.
Last month a Russian politician warned of ‘serious military and political consequences’ if Finland and Sweden joined the alliance.
Russian Foreign Ministry Second European Department Director Sergei Belyayev told Interfax: ‘It is obvious that Finland and Sweden’s joining NATO, which is a military organization in the first place, would have serious military and political consequences requiring use to revise the entire range of relations with these countries and take retaliatory measures.’
Service members of pro-Russian troops inspect streets during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol
A woman gestures past a shell crater and destroyed houses in the outskirts of Ivankiv, Kyiv region
A service member of pro-Russian troops takes a break during the inspection of the streets in the besieged port city of Mariupol
Last month Finland also detected interference with passenger jets’ GPS signals near Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave and the country’s eastern border with Moscow.
Finnish airline Finnair said its pilots had noticed the disturbances near Kaliningrad, which is sandwiched between NATO members Lithuania and Poland on the Baltic Sea’s east coast.
Other aircraft reported unusual disturbances in GPS signals near Finland’s eastern border with Russia, with planes unable to land at Savonlinna airport due to the interference.
In February Helsinki also received letters from Russia, demanding clarity on the Nordic nation’s future regarding security.
Haavisto then told The Times the instance ‘reminded (him) of the Cold War’, when the country was used to ‘this kind of Russian letter asking for ‘consultations’.
Until now, nothing was able to persuade Finland or Sweden to join NATO, throughout the Cold War from 1947 to 1989, and in the decades since.
But in March it appeared that Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine increased public support in Finland for joining the NATO alliance to record levels, according to a poll.
A total of 62 per cent of respondents in Finland had supported their government applying for NATO membership.
According to the survey which was commissioned by Finland’s public broadcaster Yle, this is up from 53 percent in the same poll which had been released two weeks ago.
Later that month another poll from newspaper Helsingin Sanomat also suggested a majority of the nation is in favour of joining NATO, with 54 per cent responding they would back the decision.
In neighbouring Sweden, a similar recent poll showed those in favour of NATO membership outnumber those against.
Vladimir Putin has used NATO’s eastward expansion as one of several justifications for his brutal war, and has demanded Ukraine pursues neutrality as a condition to withdraw.
Meanwhile, NATO countries have repeatedly refused requests from Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky to directly aid his country’s fight against Moscow’s invading forces out of fear of being dragged into a wider conflict with Russia.