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Finland’s 1,300-km border will more than double the length of the frontier between the US-led alliance and Russia, putting Nato guards a few hours’ drive from the northern outskirts of St Petersburg.

“Finland must apply for Nato membership without delay,” President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said in a joint statement. Asked on Wednesday if Finland would provoke Russia by joining Nato, Niinisto said: “My response would be that you caused this. Look at the mirror.”

Five diplomats and officials told Reuters that Nato allies expect both countries to be granted membership quickly, paving the way for an increased troop presence in the Nordic region to defend them during a one-year ratification period.

Putin cited Nato’s potential expansion as one of the main reasons he launched a “special military operation” in Ukraine in February. Nato describes itself as a defensive alliance, built around a treaty declaring that an attack on one member is an attack on all, granting US allies the protection of Washington’s superpower might including its nuclear arsenal.

Moscow regards that as a threat to its security. But Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine has changed Nordic public opinion, with many now embracing the view that Russia is a menace. Finland in particular has centuries of uneasy history in Russia’s shadow.

Thursday also saw an intensification of disputes over Russian supplies of energy to Europe – still Moscow’s biggest source of funds and Europe’s biggest source of heat and power. Moscow said it would halt gas flows to Germany through the main pipeline over Poland, while Kyiv said it would not reopen a pipeline route it shut this week unless it regains control of areas from pro-Russian fighters. Prices for gas in Europe surged.

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