Finland’s leaders have announced they support the country joining Nato, less than 24 hours after signing a new security pact with Britain.
The announcement comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Helsinki to sign a deal that would see the UK go to Finland’s aid, including with military support, in the event of an attack on the country.
Finland has previously opted to stay neutral and keep out of Nato for fear of antagonising Russia.
But public sentiment for joining the western military alliance has grown in the country since Russian president Vladimir Putin began his attack on Ukraine in February.
Finland shares an 830-mile land border with Russia, with major city St Petersburg only a few hours drive from the divide.
In a joint statement on Thursday, president Sauli Niinisto and prime minister Sanna Marin said: “Finland must apply for Nato membership without delay.”
They said they hoped a decision could be taken “rapidly within the next few days” to formally apply.
During his time with Mr Niinisto on Wednesday, Mr Johnson said the new accord between Britain and Finland was more than a “stop gap” while the country deliberated over Nato membership.
He said it was an “enduring assurance between two nations” to face the “challenges of today, the threats of tomorrow, side by side”.
The Prime Minister’s confirmation that British troops could enter Finland if attacked could be a precursor to Helsinki being included under Nato’s section five agreement granting collective defence.
The agreement ensures that should one member be attacked, all members should come to their partner’s assistance.
Mr Johnson told a press briefing in the Finnish capital on Wednesday that the security deal will see each other “always come to one another’s aid”.
He added: “What it says is that in the event of a disaster, or in the event of an attack on either of us, then yes, we will come to each other’s assistance, including with military assistance.”
Mr Johnson’s whistle-stop tour included a visit to Sweden to sign a similar defence pact.
Stockholm is also expected to decide on joining Nato in the coming days.
The Kremlin has warned of “military and political repercussions” if Sweden and Finland decide to join the alliance but Mr Johnson made clear he would back Sweden’s accession.
He told the BBC during his visit to the Scandinavian country that, while it was a debate for Sweden to have, the UK would “strongly support Sweden’s accession if that was what the Swedes chose to do”.
Should Finland and Sweden apply, there will be an interim period lasting from when an application has been made until all 30 Nato members’ parliaments have ratified it.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson said he did not think relations with Mr Putin could be “renormalised”, after accusing the Russian leader of “grossly violating” human rights and international law with his military’s actions in Ukraine.
“I think that repentance is going to be very difficult for Vladimir Putin now,” the Prime Minister told LBC in an interview recorded during his trip on Wednesday.
“Nothing is impossible, I suppose, but I just cannot see for the life of me how we can renormalise relations with Putin now.
“He has grossly violated human rights, international law. He’s guilty of absolutely barbaric onslaught on a totally innocent country.
“And to renormalise would be to make the mistake that we made in 2014 (following the annexing of Crimea).
“And if the Ukrainians were to do any kind of deal with Putin now, the risk is that he would do exactly the same thing, and they know it.
“So the short answer is no. No renormalisation and the UK is very clear about that.”