The United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised to defend Finland and Sweden if either nation comes under attack.
On Wednesday, during a whistle-stop tour to the two Nordic nations, he pledged to meet first Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson at her official countryside residence; then Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in Helsinki.
Sweden and Finland are currently planning to join NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.
This is a key week for the NATO debate, with Niinistö and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin announcing their decision to join the military alliance on Thursday morning.
Prime Minister Johnson said in a statement that the new agreement will “fortify northern Europe’s defences, in the face of renewed threats.”
Further, he added, “these are not a short-term stop-gap, but a long-term commitment to bolster military ties and global stability, and fortify Europe’s defences for generations to come.”
Finland is situated 1,340 Kilometre away from the Russian border, while Sweden doesn’t have a land border, but it contains some strategically essential islands in the Baltic Sea near the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
In practice, Johnson says the deal will also deepen ties between the British military and the Swedish and Finnish armies, which have already been cooperating increasingly closely under the auspices of the Joint Expeditionary Force, which is made up of ten northern European countries and led by the UK.
UK PM Boris Johnson meets Swedish PM Magdalena Andersson at her country residence Harpsund, 11 May 2022. The Kremlin has warned of “military and political repercussions” if Sweden and Finland decide to join NATO.
There will be an interim period between the application and all 30 NATO members’ parliaments ratifying their membership should Sweden and Finland apply. That process could last anywhere between four months and a year.
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed the equation of European security. It has re-written our reality and re-shaped our future,” Johnson said at a Helsinki press conference.
Answering how Russia should feel about Finland’s possible NATO membership, President Niinistö said, “you caused this. Look in the mirror.”
The Finnish president’s office noted that the pledge of mutual military assistance was “a political declaration and not a legally binding commitment under international law”.