Turkey, Hungary put Finland on course to join NATO: what it means

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday ended months of diplomatically charged delays and asked parliament to quickly back Finland’s bid to join NATO.

Flags flutter in the wind outside the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.  (AP)
Flags flutter in the wind outside the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. (AP)

A simultaneous decision by fellow holdout Hungary to schedule the Finnish ratification vote for March 27 means the US-led defense alliance is likely to grow to 31 countries within a few months.

NATO’s expansion into the country, which shares a 1,340-kilometre (830-mile) border with Russia, would almost double the length of the bloc’s current border with its Cold War-era foe.

Finland initially aimed to join with fellow NATO aspirant Sweden – a Nordic power facing disputes with Turkey, which ultimately lost its chance to join the bloc ahead of an alliance summit in July.

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Helsinki and Stockholm ended decades of military non-alignment and decided to join the world’s most powerful defense alliance in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Their applications were accepted at the NATO summit in June, signaling the Western world’s willingness to stand up against Russia in the face of Europe’s most serious conflict since World War II.

But the bids still needed to be ratified by the parliaments of all 30 members of the coalition – a process that hung up after reaching Turkey and Hungary.

Friday’s breakthrough comes after months of tense talks between Ankara and Nordic neighbors at times threatening collapse.

Erdogan told Finnish President Sauli Niinisto that Helsinki has shown a strong commitment to address Ankara’s security concerns.

“We have decided to introduce the protocol of Finland’s accession to NATO in our parliament,” Erdogan told reporters after the talks.

Erdogan said he was “hopeful” that parliament would approve the application ahead of Turkey’s crucial general election in May.

Turkey’s parliament is expected to end its current session in mid-April.

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