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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that the treaty organization had formally accepted the applications, which have been in development over the past week.
“I warmly welcome the requests by Finland and Sweden to join NATO. You are our closest partners,” Stoltenberg told reporters after a receiving their application letters from the two Nordic countries’ ambassadors.
NATO’s 30 member countries will now weigh the applications. The process is expected to take about two weeks, although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed reservations about the Nordic countries joining.
If Finland and Sweden overcome Erdogan’s objections, they could become members in a few months. While the process usually takes eight to 12 months, NATO wants to move quickly given the threat of Russia.
The Kremlin has warned that Finland and Sweden joining NATO would represent a threat to Russia, and has threatened to deploy nuclear warheads to the border with Finland should the alliance go through.
In an abrupt about-face, however, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later said that the Russian neighbors joining NATO “makes no big difference.”
Germany and the United States already have agreements to defend Finland and Sweden against Russian aggression.
Sweden has avoided military alliances for more than 200 years, while Finland adopted neutrality after being defeated by the Soviet Union in World War II. Finland has an 810-mile border with Russia.
The capital city of Finland, Helsinki, sits across the Gulf of Finland from Russia’s historic capital, St. Petersburg.