Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto confirmed on Sunday that his country would apply for membership of the Nato military alliance, in a historic policy shift prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Moscow, which shares a 1,300km (800 mile) border with Finland, has said it would be a mistake for Helsinki to join the transatlantic alliance and that it would harm bilateral ties. Sweden is also expected to follow suit as public support for membership has grown amid security concerns. Sunday’s announcement comes after Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Thursday they both favoured Nato (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) membership, giving a green light for the country to apply. “Today, we, the president and the government’s foreign policy committee, have together decided that Finland … will apply for Nato membership,” Niinisto told reporters in the presidential palace in Helsinki. Russia to cut electricity to Finland amid Ukraine tensions, Nato bid Niinisto called Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday to tell him of Finland’s plans to join the alliance. Putin said such a move would hurt Russian-Finnish relations. “I, or Finland, are not known to sneak around and quietly disappear behind a corner. It is better to say it straight what already has been said, also to the concerned party and that is what I wanted to do,” he said about his call on Sunday. Finland was driven into the fold of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation by Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, and is pulling neighbouring Sweden along. The attack shifted popular opinion overnight, with policymakers rapidly kicking off the process to join. “It is an absolutely monumental change politically, in those countries, because they’ve had the opportunity now for three decades to join Nato, and Sweden for even longer than that, but chose to remain outside,” Elisabeth Braw, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said. “This is really an extraordinary step and a huge development, politically.” The move has been called the third defining moment in Finnish history, completing the Nordic nation’s century-long aspiration to be considered a fully fledged part of the west. Having won independence in 1917 after more than 100 years as a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire, Finns fought two wars with the Soviet Union, ceding parts of their territory in 1944. Finland then tiptoed through an era of neutrality during the Cold War – by necessity, not by choice – cowering to Moscow while retaining independence in a policy that came to be known as Finlandisation. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Nordic country immediately sought entry into the European fold in Sweden’s wake, with the two joining the European Union in 1995. Finland ‘confident’ of overcoming Turkey’s Nato opposition The country of 5.5 million people is guarding a border roughly 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) long, has a reserve of 900,000 troops and is able to deploy 280,000 of them in wartime. It’s held on to a conscription-based system where most men and some women undergo military training lasting from six months to a year. Finland’s military equipment is compatible with Nato gear and includes a large number of artillery and tanks. The country in December decided to buy 64 Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35A multi-role fighter jets to replace its ageing F/A-18 Hornets in a 10 billion-euro (US$10.4 billion) procurement. “Finland will maximise its security and that is not away from anybody,” Niinisto said. Neighbouring Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats are planning to disclose their stance to Nato membership later on Sunday. The Nordic countries were met with widespread support by Nato foreign ministers gathering in Berlin on Saturday and Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has repeatedly said the two would be warmly welcomed. The military bloc brings in new members unanimously. President Niinisto phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday to say the Nordic country plans to seek Nato membership. The move would be a “mistake because there are no threats to Finland’s security,” Putin told his Finnish counterpart, according to a statement from the Kremlin, adding that it could harm relations between the countries. Russia has hinted at the prospect of more troops on the border, or bringing nuclear weapons into its Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad in response. “This is a card the Russians have been playing since 2014 and onwards,” said Anna Wieslander, director for Northern Europe at the Atlantic Council. “We believe that they have had such weapons in Kaliningrad already since 2018 and have taken precautions due to that.” According to a recent survey, 84 per cent of Finns think that Russia poses a significant military threat, and they’re nearly unanimous in saying their neighbour is “unstable and unpredictable” with just 2 per cent rejecting that characterisation of Russia. Policymakers say there’s no immediate threat.