Helsinki has not been neutral for a long time, EU Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen has said
Helsinki was always going to join NATO eventually, since it has become closely intertwined with the West over the years, EU Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen - who hails from Finland - told Germany's RND media group on Monday.
The Nordic nation had maintained a neutral status since the end of WWII. However, it officially submitted a bid to join the US-led military bloc on May 18.
Urpilainen, who headed Finland's Finance Ministry between 2011 and 2014, believes her country's neutrality was gradually eroded during the intervening period.
"Finland has not been really neutral. Over the years, we have integrated more and more into the West," she said. After Finland had joined the EU in 1995, joining NATO was "a natural next step," the EU official believes.
Urpilainen also said the decision to join the military alliance had been "well thought out and well prepared," since the issue was discussed at all levels down to individual municipalities.
However, she admitted that Russia's military operation in Ukraine had greatly contributed to the rapidly shifting mood of the Finns, who had remained neutral throughout the Cold War.
"Before Russia attacked [Ukraine], most people thought they could be good neighbors with Russia. Only about 20% of Finns were in favor of joining NATO. Now over 70% are in favor," the EU commissioner noted, adding that the atmosphere in the country had changed almost overnight.
Now, the general sentiment is that joining the military bloc would strengthen Finland's position, Urpilainen said, adding that it was important for Helsinki that its neighbors in Sweden had decided to join NATO as well.
Finland, which shares a 1,340km (832-mile) land border with Russia and fought a war against the Soviet Union in 1939, has maintained its military neutrality since the end of World War II. Sweden has remained militarily neutral since 1814, a generation after the last of its costly battles with Russia. Residents of both countries have historically opposed joining NATO, but public opinion shifted sharply after Russia launched its military operation against Ukraine in February.
Moscow has criticized the two nations' decisions, pointing to the growing threat to its western borders stemming from continuous NATO expansion to the east. Last week, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said Russia would form 12 new military units in its western region to address this growing threat.
The two Nordic nations lodged their bids earlier in May, but faced opposition from Turkey, a major NATO nation, which claims that Sweden and Finland both harbor people it deems to be terrorists, namely members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).