There is growing support in Finland and Sweden for the countries to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

    Recent public opinion studies, or polls, showed that citizens in both nations now favor membership in the Western military alliance.

    In Finland, broadcaster YLE carried out its study this week. It found that 53 percent of citizens, a majority, were in favor of the country joining NATO. About 28 percent were against it.

    In Sweden, a poll in late February by broadcaster SVT found that 41 percent of the public supported NATO membership. Thirty-five percent opposed it. It was the first time an opinion study in Sweden had found more people in favor of the country joining NATO than were against it.

    Both nations are seen as important partners for NATO in the Baltic Sea area. Russia has greatly increased its military exercises in the Baltic in the past 10 years. But leaders in the two countries have expressed that they will not be pressured and any decision on NATO membership will be their own.

    Support for NATO membership rises and falls and currently no clear majority in either nation's parliament approves joining.

    Some security experts point to the rise in support as a sign that Russia's invasion of Ukraine changed Europe's security situation.

    The attack on Ukraine led both Finland and Sweden to break with earlier policies not to provide arms to countries at war. Both countries are sending guns and anti-tank weapons to Ukraine. For Sweden, it is the first time it has offered military aid since 1939, when it assisted Finland against the Soviet Union.

    "The unthinkable might start to become thinkable," tweeted former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt. He has supported NATO membership.

    There are no set requirements for joining NATO. But candidate nations must meet some political and other considerations. Many observers believe Finland and Sweden would qualify for quick entry into NATO without a long negotiation process.

    Though not members, Finland and Sweden already cooperate with NATO. They permit the alliance's troops to hold exercises on their territory. Finland and Sweden have also intensified their defense cooperation in recent years. Both have secured close military cooperation with the U.S., Britain and neighboring NATO member Norway.

    Matti Pesu is with the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. He told The Associated Press the Finnish public has been very consistent in its opinion about NATO membership for the past 30 years. "It seems now to have changed completely," he said.

    Pesu said the recent studies are the only sign of a change in public opinion. But he noted that no similar change came after Russia's 2008 war with Georgia or Russia's 2014 takeover of the Crimean Peninsula. "So this is an exception," Pesu said.

    Russia's Foreign Ministry voiced concern last week about what it described as efforts by the United States and some of its allies to "drag" Finland and Sweden into NATO. It warned that Russia would be forced to take measures against the nations if they chose to join the alliance.

    I'm Jill Robbins.