Here is the latest information on the process and the key points under discussion:
WHAT ARE THE MAJOR STEPS TO COME?
The coming days are crucial. On May 12, Finland will decide whether to apply for NATO membership, the Iltalehti newspaper reported on Sunday, citing unnamed Finnish government sources.
This decision would be made in two stages, Iltalehti reported. President Sauli Niinisto would first announce his approval of Finland’s membership, then the parliamentary groups would agree to the request.
There would be no plenary vote in Parliament, but the leaders of the parliamentary groups would express the decision of their group.
Reuters was not immediately available to confirm the report.
In Sweden, parliament is carrying out a review of security policy, including the pros and cons of joining the alliance, the results of which are expected on 13 May. The parliament already has a majority in favor of NATO membership.
Meanwhile, the ruling Social Democrats, the largest party in every election for 100 years, will have an internal debate May 9-12 on whether to drop their longstanding opposition to NATO membership, the leadership of the party to make a decision by May 24 at the latest.
If Finland applies, Sweden is likely to do the same, as it would not want to be the only Nordic outsider. The other Nordic countries – Norway, Denmark and Iceland – joined the pact as founding members. Several recent polls suggest that a majority of Swedes support it – something unheard of before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Finland and Sweden would like to have certain guarantees that NATO member countries will defend them during any transition period, when they are candidates for the alliance, but not yet in it.
Ratification can take a year, NATO diplomats say, as the parliaments of all 30 NATO countries must approve new members.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said countries could join “quickly” and that he was sure arrangements could be found for the transition period.
The United States and Britain have promised Sweden “an increased military presence, more extensive military exercises and ‘strong’ political support from NATO countries” during a possible bid process. NATO, according to the Swedish daily Aftonbladet.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto has acknowledged that filing an application for membership would not be enough to bring the two Nordic countries under NATO’s Article 5 umbrella, which guarantees that an attack on an ally is an attack on all.
“But at the same time, NATO member countries have an interest that no security breaches take place during the candidacy period,” Haavisto said, adding that Finland could, for example, organize enhanced military exercises with NATO members during this period.
WHAT IS RUSSIA SAYING?
Moscow has repeatedly warned of “serious consequences” if Finland and Sweden join NATO, saying it should strengthen its ground, naval and air forces in the Baltic Sea, and raised the possibility of deploying nuclear weapons in the region.
Russia and Finland share a border of 1,300 km; the Kola Peninsula is a “strategic stronghold” that Moscow considers essential for Russia’s national security; it is also the seat of the Russian Northern Fleet; and Russia’s second largest city, St. Petersburg, lies some 170 km from the border with Finland.