Finland and Sweden on Wednesday submitted letters formally expressing interest in joining NATO, a significant moment for two European countries that held the position of military non-alignment until Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The letters were conveyed by the Finnish Ambassador and the Swedish Ambassador to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the Alliance's Brussels headquarters. Stoltenberg warmly welcomed the requests, saying "This is a good day, at a critical moment for our security."
"A historic day. Today, Finland and Sweden hand in letters expressing their countries' interest to apply for #NATO membership to SG @jensstoltenberg," Finland at NATO said in a tweet.
Stoltenberg described the NATO applications as a historic step.
"Allies will now consider the next steps on your path to NATO. The security interests of all allies have to be taken into account and we are determined to work thought all issues and reach rapid conclusions," Stoltenberg said after receiving the applications.
"All Allies agree on the importance of NATO enlargement. We all agree that we must stand together. And we all agree that this is an historic moment, which we must seize," he added.
This decision comes a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin said Finland and Sweden's bids to join NATO posed no direct threat to Russia. However, he warned the Western military alliance against moving weapons into the two countries' territories.
"As for the expansion (of NATO), including through new members of the alliance -- Finland, Sweden -- Russia wants to inform you that it has no problems with these states," Putin said on Monday while speaking at a gathering in Moscow of leaders from the member countries of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
"Therefore, in this sense, expansion on account of these countries does not pose a direct threat to Russia."