HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland inched closer to joining NATO on Wednesday after its major parliamentary groups expressed support for some form of a military alliance as a response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The Finnish Parliament on Wednesday began debating the possibility of Finland, which shares a long border with Russia, joining NATO.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin's Social Democrats stopped short of mentioning NATO in their addresses but nevertheless voiced support for an idea of a military alliance.
"It is evident that Russia's actions have brought Finland several steps closer to military alignment being necessary," Social Democrat group leader Antti Lindtman told fellow parliament members.
Finland is a close partner with NATO, but has maintained a militarily non-aligned status. Now, however, its defence and security needed strengthening, and a decision on whether to apply for NATO membership could be taken within weeks, Marin has said.
The government has also indicated public support for joining the alliance could be gauged through a parliamentary vote instead of a referendum, though no date for such a vote has been set yet.
Social Democrats' largest ally in Finland's five-party coalition government, the Centre Party said it was ready to support a NATO decision.
"The Centre Party group...is ready for all decisions Finland's security requires, including applying for a NATO membership," group leader Juha Pylvas said.
Eight parliamentary group leaders out of 10 expressed support either for joining NATO or aligning itself militarily, while Left Alliance leader Jussi Saramo said this should not be a "rubber stamp" decision and called for a wider discussion.
The Left Alliance, which has 16 seats in the 200-seat parliament and is part of Marin's government coalition, has traditionally opposed NATO, but said it would not leave the government if a parliamentary majority supported membership.
Saramo said NATO membership application would increase tensions on the Finnish-Russian border and could make Finland a potential target of the first strike in a war between NATO and Russia.
A nationalist lawmaker who represents a group with just one parliamentary seat, was the only one to voice direct opposition to Finland's potential NATO membership bid.
(Reporting by Essi Lehto and Anne Kauranen; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)