Russia attacks Ukraine: Finland, Sweden apply to join NATO

BRUSSELS — Finland and Sweden have submitted their applications to join NATO amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the military alliance said.

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According to The Associated Press, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg shared the news Wednesday in remarks to reporters, calling the move a “historic step.”

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“This is a good day, at a critical moment for our security. Thank you so much for handing over the applications for Finland’s and Sweden’s membership in NATO,” he said. “Every nation has the right to choose its own path. You have both made your choice, after thorough democratic processes, and I warmly welcome the requests by Finland and Sweden to join NATO. You are our closest partners, and your membership in NATO would increase our shared security.”

Now NATO’s 30 member countries will consider the applications of the two long-neutral nations, which have expressed security concerns since Russian troops first invaded Ukraine in late February, the AP reported. If the process moves forward smoothly, Finland and Sweden could formally join the alliance “within a few months,” according to the news agency.

Since the invasion began, at least 3,752 civilians have been killed and 4,062 have been injured in Ukraine, the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner reported Tuesday. The number of military deaths, however, is harder to verify. The Washington Post, citing a NATO official, reported in late March that as many as 15,000 Russian troops had died in the fighting, while the Ukrainian government said last week that the number of slain Russian soldiers had grown to about 27,000, according to Agence France-Presse. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last month that up to 3,000 of his nation’s troops had died, but Russia claimed in late March that it had killed 14,000 Ukrainian soldiers, Forbes reported.

The fighting also has displaced millions of people living in Ukraine. As of Monday, nearly 6.3 million people had fled from Ukraine to other countries, including almost 3.4 million to neighboring Poland, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.