Finland, Sweden apply to join NATO as first Ukraine war crimes trial begins
BRUSSELS – Finland and Sweden on Wednesday submitted a joint application to join NATO as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forces a dramatic reappraisal of security in Europe.
The reversal of the Nordic countries’ longstanding policy of non-alignment came as the war nears its third month and Ukraine strives to evacuate the last of its soldiers holed up at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol.
Azovstal has become emblematic of the fierce Ukrainian resistance that has forced Russian President Vladimir Putin to reorient his military goals after a devastating campaign strewn with alleged war crimes.
In Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, the first war crimes trial of a Russian soldier since the invasion began was set to get under way at 1100 GMT.
“By this first trial, we are sending a clear signal that every perpetrator, every person who ordered or assisted in the commission of crimes in Ukraine shall not avoid responsibility,” prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova said.
At NATO headquarters in Brussels, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg formally received the applications from the Finnish and Swedish ambassadors, calling them “an historic step”.
“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 said. The membership push could represent the most significant expansion of NATO in decades, doubling its border with Russia, and Putin has warned it may trigger a response from Moscow.
But the applications face resistance from NATO member Turkey, which has threatened to block them over accusations the Nordic neighbours act as safe havens for armed groups opposed to Ankara.
Western allies remain optimistic they can overcome Turkey’s objections and for now, several including Britain have offered security guarantees to Finland and Sweden to guard against any Russian aggression.