'Historic day' as Finland confirms application for NATO membership

Finland's president and government have announced the Nordic country intends to apply for membership of NATO, paving the way for the 30-member Western military alliance to expand amid Russia's war in Ukraine.

President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin made the announcement at a joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki on Sunday.

Finland, which shares a long border with Russia, has previously been a neutral country.

Mr Niinisto said: "This is a historic day. A new era begins."

The Finnish Parliament is expected to endorse the decision in coming days, but it is considered a formality.

Watch: Why Finland wants to join NATO.

A formal membership application will then be submitted to NATO headquarters in Brussels, most likely at some point next week.

It comes after President Niinisto told Vladimir Putin Finland would "decide to apply for NATO membership in the coming days".

Mr Niinisto's office said in a statement that he told the Russian president in a phone conversation how Finland's security environment had changed after Russia invaded Ukraine.

It also pointed to Moscow's demands for Finland to refrain from seeking membership in NATO.

However, Putin warned his Finnish counterpart relations between the two countries could be "negatively affected" if Finland follows through with plans to apply for NATO membership.

The Kremlin's press service said in a statement that Mr Putin told Sauli Niinisto that Finland's abandonment "of its traditional policy of military neutrality would be an error since there are no threats to Finland's security".