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Finland and Sweden could join NATO as early as this summer amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine – as US officials blast Putin‘s war a ‘massive strategic blunder’. 

Membership is understood to have been a ‘topic of discussion’ during talks between NATO’s foreign ministers last week.

Finland is expected to apply to join the alliance in June, followed by neighbouring Sweden, despite warnings from Russia that membership would lead to ‘the destruction of their country’.

It comes after Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said it was time for the country to reconsider its stance on NATO, while Swedish leader Magdalena Andersson refused to rule out an application.

Finland, which has a long border with Russia and was invaded by the Red Army in 1939, has never been a member of the Cold War defence alliance, preferring instead to organise its own protection.  

However, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, opinion polls commissioned by Finnish media outlets have shown a swift U-turn in public opinion with the majority now favouring joining. 

And Sweden is currently undertaking a review of its security that is due for completion at the end of this month – similar to Finland’s timetable, The Times reports.

If granted membership, NATO”s alliance would rise to 32 nations amid hopes that the Russian military would be stretched even further.  

inland Prime Minister Sanna Marin pictured on Thursday during a meeting with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Helsinki, Finland

inland Prime Minister Sanna Marin pictured on Thursday during a meeting with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Helsinki, Finland

inland Prime Minister Sanna Marin pictured on Thursday during a meeting with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Helsinki, Finland

Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson pictured arriving at an EU summit in Brussels on March 25

Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson pictured arriving at an EU summit in Brussels on March 25

Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson pictured arriving at an EU summit in Brussels on March 25

US officials have branded Putin's war a 'massive strategic blunder' as Finland and Sweden are poised to make applications for NATO membership

US officials have branded Putin's war a 'massive strategic blunder' as Finland and Sweden are poised to make applications for NATO membership

US officials have branded Putin’s war a ‘massive strategic blunder’ as Finland and Sweden are poised to make applications for NATO membership

Sweden and Finland are the two closest countries to Russia in the Arctic Circle, with the Kremlin previously threatening ‘military consequences’ if either joined NATO.

But Ms Marin said: ‘Russia is not the neighbour we thought it was.’

She added: ‘I think we will have very careful discussions, but we are also not taking any more time than we have to in this process, because the situation is, of course, very severe.’ 

Finland has opted to remain neutral since World War Two, choosing instead to act as a buffer between East and West when Europe was carved up during the Cold War, affording it more flexibility in its foreign policy while allaying Russian fears of Western expansion.  

But Alexander Stubb, who headed Finland’s government in 2014 and 2015, also said the country could decide to join the military alliance as soon as May. 

He added: ‘In the beginning of the war I said that Putin’s aggression will drive Finland and Sweden to apply for NATO membership. 

‘I said it was not a matter of days or weeks, but months. Time to revise: Finland will apply within weeks, latest May. Sweden to follow, or at the same time.’ 

Russian lawmaker Vladimir Dzhabarov, though, said this week that it is not likely ‘the Finns themselves will sign a card for the destruction of their country’, threatening a repeat of the Ukraine invasion which was sparked in part by its desire to join NATO.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov added that if Finland and Sweden joined NATO, then Russia would have to ‘rebalance the situation’ with its own measures in another thinly-veiled warning.

It comes as NATO is preparing to deploy a permanent full-scale military force on its eastern flank capable of repelling a Russian invasion similar to the one that has ravaged Ukraine, the alliance’s secretary general has revealed.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gestures as he addresses media representatives at a press conference following a meeting of NATO foreign ministers on Wednesday

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gestures as he addresses media representatives at a press conference following a meeting of NATO foreign ministers on Wednesday

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gestures as he addresses media representatives at a press conference following a meeting of NATO foreign ministers on Wednesday

Residents walk along a street near a building destroyed in Mariupol on Sunday during Russia's invasion of Ukraine

Residents walk along a street near a building destroyed in Mariupol on Sunday during Russia's invasion of Ukraine

Residents walk along a street near a building destroyed in Mariupol on Sunday during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Emergency workers remove debris of a building destroyed in the besieged city of Mariupol

Emergency workers remove debris of a building destroyed in the besieged city of Mariupol

Emergency workers remove debris of a building destroyed in the besieged city of Mariupol

Residents carry their belongings surrounded by buildings that have been destroyed by Russian shelling on Sunday

Residents carry their belongings surrounded by buildings that have been destroyed by Russian shelling on Sunday

Residents carry their belongings surrounded by buildings that have been destroyed by Russian shelling on Sunday

Currently, NATO only deploys a relatively small ‘tripwire’ force in the Baltic states that border Russia and Belarus, which is intended to signal a commitment to the countries’ defence rather than a credible defence in its own right.

As part of NATO’s major ‘reset’, this symbolic presence will be replaced by one capable of beating the Russian army back without reinforcements needing to be called in from across the alliance.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in the Telegraph that NATO was ‘in the midst of a very fundamental transformation’ that will reflect ‘the long-term consequences’ of Vladimir Putin’s actions.

He pointed out that NATO troop numbers in the eastern flank were already at 40,000, nearly ten times greater than they were a few months ago before the invasion.

‘What we see now is a new reality, a new normal for European security. Therefore, we have now asked our military commanders to provide options for what we call a reset, a longer-term adaptation of NATO. 

‘I expect that NATO leaders will make decisions on this when they meet in Madrid at the NATO summit in June.’

Source: dailymail

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