Finnish and Swedish lawmakers on May 16 are debating applying for NATO membership as Russia again warned that the admission of the two Nordic neighbors into the alliance would be a "grave mistake" that would have "far-reaching consequences."
Finland, which has been neutral for decades, and traditionally non-aligned Sweden have moved closer to joining NATO amid growing concern at home over Russia’s military aggession.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson told parliament at the start of the debate that she sees “a historic change in our country’s security policy line, adding that the country was acting together with neighboring Finland.
The debate is expected to be a formality as there is a clear majority of lawmakers in favor joining NATO.
The Swedish government is expected to announce its intention to seek membership in the 30-member military alliance later May 16.
In Finland, which has lost a large chunk of territory to the Soviet Union after the two sides fought two conflicts during World War II, President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin have said that after consulting parliament, the country intends to rapidly apply for NATO membership.
While no formal date is expected to be announced immediately for when accession could take place, NATO will hold a summit in Madrid on June 28-29.
NATO officials have indicated that the accession protocols for Finland and Sweden could be signed at that time if the formal applications landed on NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s desk by the end of May.
In response to the news, Stoltenberg said their entry would be "smooth and swift."
U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said on May 16 that the U.S. Congress will seek to ratify Finland's application to join the Western military alliance NATO before going on holiday in August.
"Certainly we hope to achieve it before the August recess when Congress typically goes out of session," McConnell told reporters in Helsinki after meeting with Niinisto.
McConnell said there was broad bipartisan support among U.S. lawmakers for the Finnish membership.
Meanwhile, Russia reiterated its warnings on May 16 against the two Nordic neighbors' becoming part of the Western alliance.
The admission of Finland and Sweden to NATO would be a "grave mistake with far-reaching consequences," said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, adding that military tensions would increase as a result.
Finland and Sweden "should have no illusions that we will simply resign ourselves to this," Ryabkov said.
On May 14, in a telephone conversation with Niinisto, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke of "a mistake" by Helsinki, and insisted Russia posed no threat to Finland.
Russian exports of power to Finland were down to zero early on May 16, flow data showed, after Russian utility firm Inter RAO said last week it would halt them because it had not been paid.
Finnish grid operator Fingrid said on May 14 that the suspension of Russian transmission was due to restrictions on payments imposed by Western nations. But is added that it can replace Russian supplies with Swedish power and by boosting domestic production.