UPDATE 3-Finnish president confirms country will apply to join NATO

·2 min read

(Adds details on conversation between Finnish leader and Putin)

By Essi Lehto

HELSINKI, May 15 (Reuters) - Finland will apply for membership in the NATO military alliance, the country's president, Sauli Niinisto, confirmed on Sunday, in a historic policy shift prompted by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Moscow, which shares a 1,300 km (800 mile) border with Finland, has said it would be a mistake for Helsinki to join the 30-strong transatlantic alliance and that it would harm bilateral ties.

Sweden is also expected to follow suit as public support for membership has grown amid security concerns.

Sunday's announcement comes after Niinisto and Finland's prime minister, Sanna Marin, said on Thursday they both favoured membership in NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization), giving a green light for the country to apply.

"Today, we, the president and the government's foreign policy committee, have together decided that Finland ... will apply for NATO membership," Niinisto told reporters in the presidential palace in Helsinki.

Niinisto called Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday to tell him of Finland's plans to join the alliance. Putin said such a move would hurt Russian-Finnish relations.

"I, or Finland, are not known to sneak around and quietly disappear behind a corner. It is better to say it straight what already has been said, also to the concerned party and that is what I wanted to do," he said on Sunday about his call.

Putin said he thought the move would be a mistake, but did not repeat earlier threats that any such move would trigger countermeasures from Moscow, the Finnish leader said in an interview with CNN on Sunday.

"Altogether, the discussion was very, would I say, calm and cool," Niinisto said. "The surprise was that he took it so calmly."

However, he added: "You have to keep in mind that what he said doesn't mean that you shouldn't be all the time quite, well, aware and follow up what really is happening. But so far, it seems that there's no immediate problems coming."

The Finnish president expressed readiness to hold talks with his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan after Ankara raised objections to the Nordic countries joining NATO.

As a NATO member, Turkey could veto their applications.

Niinisto said he was "a bit confused" about what he said was a shift in Turkey's stance. "What we need now is a very clear answer, I am prepared to have a new discussion with President Erdogan about the problems he has raised."

He told CNN he believed there will be a lot of discussion on the matter. "I'm not that worried about that," Niinisto said. (Reporting by Essi Lehto in Helsinki Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington Writing by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by David Clarke and Matthew Lewis)

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