NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg welcomed on Thursday the announcement by Finland's president and prime minister that they will support the country's bid for membership in the military alliance.
“Should Finland decide to apply, they would be warmly welcomed into NATO, and the accession process would be smooth and swift,” Stoltenberg said in a statement, welcoming the decision of President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin.
He stressed that “Finland is one of NATO's closest partners, a mature democracy, a member of the European Union, and an important contributor to Euro-Atlantic security.”
The secretary general said the country's “NATO membership would strengthen both NATO and Finland's security.”
The Finnish leaders in a joint statement announced their intention to seek NATO membership “without delay,” defying Russia’s warning that they do not want another alliance member at their borders.
Finland shares a 1,300-kilometer (810-mile) border with Russia, and early in World War II it fiercely defended itself from a Soviet invasion.
The country maintained strict military neutrality during the Cold War, but in 1995 struck a partnership agreement with NATO.
After Russia launched a war against neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, support for NATO membership in Finland surged significantly.
Russia has repeatedly said that Finland and its neighbor Sweden should not join NATO, calling the move a threat to its security.