Finland’s NATO debate: – Fear of being attacked:

HELSINKI (Dagbladet): A week in war is the number 53 percent record, and the majority of facts for the first time. Two weeks later have grew to 62 percent. The number of Finns who want the country to join NATO has never been this many.

The proximity to the war in Ukraine has left its mark on Finland. Three out of four answered that they were afraid of Russia.

With the ongoing war, the fear of an attack on Finland is also growing bigger than in decades. But Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen denied that it was time to apply for membership. At the same time, Prime Minister Sanna Marin is very careful in her statements about the possibility of NATO membership.

However, in early March, he said that Finland was continuing to consider applying for membership. Until then, the country has been trying to strengthen cooperation with NATO.

– The NATO debate is in full swing and is guaranteed to be more intense, Marin said in early March, and was right.

The situation is more acute than before.

STRENGTHENED COOPERATION: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg with Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin. Photo: Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva / AFP / NTB
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Drastic changes

Slowly, but surely, NATO’s share is getting bigger and bigger. But we’ve never been this close. The latest results are like an earthquake and have drastically changed the political debate, said Lauri Nurmi, to Dagbladet.

Political journalists at the Iltalehti newspaper have been following debates and political situations more closely than most in recent weeks. He believes his homeland has been naive in recent decades.

– Finland for many years believed that if it did not bother Putin and Russia, the situation would remain peaceful. The debate resumed when Russia attacked Georgia in 2008. But now NATO is the hottest topic in political discussion, said Nurmi.

AT THE BORDER: Dagbladet has spoken with residents of the Finnish town of Lappeenranta. Only 20 km from the Russian border. Journalists in Finland: Julie Tran and Audun Hageskal. Editing: Maja Walberg Klev.

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– Not feeling safe

Dagbladet has been in contact with a number of residents in Helsinki and several Finnish cities near the border with Russia. While most of them want to join NATO, there is also great uncertainty about the timing. The fear that membership will increase the risk of attack is real.

However, according to Nurmi, politicians who oppose NATO have calmed down in the debate. According to him, the reason is simple.

“Both politicians and people are afraid of attacks and feel insecure about whether Russia will attack Finland, unless Finland has security in Article 5 of NATO”, which guarantees military assistance in the event of an attack on member states,” said journalist Iltalehti.

TRAIN: Several thousand Russians arrived in Finland by train after Europe closed airspace to Russia. Journalists in Finland: Audun Hageskal and Julie Tran / Dagbladet
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For four years, Jussi Niinistö served as Minister of Defense of Finland. Also during the period 2015 to 2019, the debate over Finland’s NATO membership heated up. However, that support never came close to what is now seen in the country.

– The changes we are seeing now are historic. There were other times when I sat as minister. I think when Ukraine was attacked, Finland felt sympathy. They saw the same scene as when Finland was attacked by the Soviet Union during the Winter War, Niinistö told Dagbladet.

VISIT TO NORWAY: Finland's then Minister of Defense, Jussi Niinistö, during a visit to Oslo in 2018. Here with Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen and Icelandic Foreign Minister Guðlaugur ór órðarson.  Photo: Tore Meek / NTB

VISIT TO NORWAY: Finland’s then Minister of Defense, Jussi Niinistö, during a visit to Oslo in 2018. Here with Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen and Icelandic Foreign Minister Guðlaugur ór órðarson. Photo: Tore Meek / NTB
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– What a great time

The former defense minister simply does not believe the country has seen the peak of NATO support. He predicts that opinion polls will pass 70 and 80 percent in favor of membership.

He himself had no doubts about what he meant today.

– I disagree with the Minister of Defense today. Right now, while Russia is at war in Ukraine, it’s definitely a good time to become a member. Times have changed. I also think the most conservative parties are seeing this now, says Niinistö.

- Prepare to panic

– Prepare to panic

He said that during his tenure as defense minister, there had been some discussion about NATO membership. In his eyes, Finland should have applied for membership since the 1990s, when it joined the EU. But according to Niinistö, it was then stranded on political will.

– Impossible, because some parties and the president are against membership. Instead, we try to be closer to NATO, without being a member. But today I have no doubts. Finland must apply for membership, the former defense minister said.

Roderick Glisson

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