In a 1994 national referendum, 56.9 percent of Finns voted to join the EU, which Finland did in the beginning of 1995 along with Sweden and Austria.
But EU membership wasn't the only thing on the line.
”I don’t know if I have ever made this public before, but I told my wife that if I can’t convince the Finns that we should join the EU, then I’ll resign. They can get themselves another president, I said. And I would have done it,” said Ahtisaari, who served as Finland's 10th president from 1994 to 2000.
Ahtisaari, founder of the Crisis Management Initiative, an NGO that works to resolve conflict and build sustainable peace, won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in 2008.
He says that he felt so strongly about how important EU membership was for Finland that NATO membership fell in the EU's shadow.
“My NATO stance is the same now as it was then," said Ahtisaari. "During my time as president I did not actively push for NATO membership because it was very good that we attained EU membership.”
According to Ahtisaari, Russia is neither a threat to Finland nor a reason for the country to join a military alliance.
”Finland should belong to all the organizations that Western democracies belong to,” he said.