HELSINKI, Finland – Finland has announced that it will apply to join NATO in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The move changes decades of Finnish policy toward the Cold War-era military alliance. It is also a big blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who sent troops into Ukraine in February in part to prevent NATO's expansion.

"This is a historic day," said Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, who made the announcement at a joint news conference Sunday with Prime Minister Sanna Marin. "A new era begins."

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

The Ukraine war prompted a change in Finland

Many Finns had opposed joining NATO over the decades for fear of provoking Russia, which shares an 830-mile border with Finland. But the Russian invasion – and its brutality – shocked most Finns.

"I always thought myself being a pacifist, and NATO for me was part of the militarization of the world," said Jouni Kaipia, an architect and a photographer, after attending a rally in Helsinki to support Ukraine.

But the invasion changed Kaipia's mind. Now he sees membership in NATO not only as a way to protect Finland, but also to teach Putin a lesson.

"If he has used the threat of NATO as a justification for his acts, now we could show (him) that the NATO has to expand because of his acts."

Kaipia is representative. A recent poll showed that 76 percent of Finns had supported joining NATO.

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