Support for Finnish NATO membership has risen sharply in Finland’s population after Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February.
76 percent of Finns now want the country to be part of the defense alliance, and on Thursday the country’s president Sauli Niinistö and prime minister Sanna Marin announced that they think the same.
That news is well received in the city of Lappeenranta, which is located just on the border with Russia.
– This is fantastic, the faster the better, exclaims Pirjio Varis, shortly after the NATO decision became known.
Everyone TV 2 talks to in the border town is happy that Finland is now at full speed on its way into the defense alliance.
– After the invasion of Ukraine, we have no other choice, says Ritva Vanhoja.
She is in a café with her friend Maria Fomin, and both believe that Russia has become a more dangerous neighbor in recent years.
– Russia is completely different now than ten years ago. Now it is impossible to say what they can come up with, says Vanhoja.
Conquered by Russia
Lappeenranta has once been a part of Russia.
The Russians won the battle here in 1741 during the Russo-Swedish war, and took control of the area. But for the last 200 years, the city has been Finnish, and has over time developed a close and good relationship with its neighbor to the east.
– That is history, and we live now, says the owner of the café Majurska, which is located on the fortress in Lappeenranta, Arja Ylä-Oufiven.
But after Russia’s conduct in another neighboring country, Ukraine, this spring, she believes the only logical thing for Finland to do is to join NATO.
– Russia can make our life here very difficult if they want it, says Ylä-Oufiven.
Around 1.8 million Russians have previously used to visit Lappeenranta annually.
But when Russia invaded Ukraine, all cross-border cooperation was broken, says Lappeenranta’s chief financial officer, Jari Iskanius.
He believes the area’s history with Russia makes them ready.
– Maybe that’s the reason why we are well prepared if something happens, so that people do not have to worry.
– How are you prepared?
– I can not give any details about that, says Iskanius.
Finland has maintained a fairly large army after the Cold War. In a crisis situation, the country can mobilize 280,000 soldiers, in addition to 600,000 reservists.
Do not save
Russia has threatened that a Finnish NATO membership will have consequences, and has warned, among other things, that they will step up their military presence on the ground, at sea and in the air in the region.
But even though many here in Lappeenranta believe the Russians have become a more dangerous neighbor, they will not be intimidated into joining NATO.
Cafe owner Arja Ylä-Oufiven also does not think the Russians will take the threats seriously.
– I think it’s just talk. They want us to be scared, but we are not, she says.