Formal accession nearly doubles the NATO border with Russia, as Moscow warns it will boost its defenses if necessary.
The blue-and-white flag of Finland has been raised alongside those of its Western partners outside NATO’s headquarters in Brussels after the Nordic country formally became the 31st member of the transatlantic defensive alliance.
Guests, including the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and the Finnish president, foreign and defense ministers applauded and shouted “bravo” at the ceremony on Tuesday, which marked a historic realignment of Europe’s security landscape.
“It’s a great day for Finland and an important day for NATO,” said Finland’s president, Sauli Niinistö. “Russia tried to create a sphere around them, and … we’re not a sphere. I’m sure Finns themselves feel more secure that we are living in a more stable world.”
Joe Biden warmly welcomed the completion of Finland’s accelerated accession process, saying NATO had shown itself more united than ever after Russia invaded Ukraine.
“When Putin launched his brutal war of aggression, he thought he could divide Europe and NATO. He was wrong,” the US president said, adding that he also “looked forward to welcoming Sweden as a NATO member as soon as possible.”
“Together, strengthened by our newest ally, Finland, we will continue to preserve transatlantic security, defend every inch of NATO territory, and meet any challenges we face,” he said.
Sweden and Finland – which shares a 1,340 km (830 miles) border with Russia – submitted simultaneous membership applications last May, abandoning decades of military nonalignment to seek security as NATO members after the Russian invasion.
While Turkey became the last NATO member to ratify Finland’s application last week, Turkey and Hungary continue to delay Sweden’s. Ankara accuses Stockholm of sheltering Kurdish militants, while Budapest has “grievances” about Swedish criticism of the rule of law in Hungary.
Niinistö said Finland’s membership “is not complete without that of Sweden” and that “persistent efforts for a rapid Swedish membership continue.” Stockholm has said it is not sure if it will be able to join before a planned NATO summit in July.
Ukraine’s president also congratulated Finland. “Amid Russian aggression, the alliance became the only effective guarantee of security in the region,” Volodymyr Zelenskiy said, noting that Finland had joined on the 74th anniversary of NATO’s founding.
Finland formally became a member of the world’s largest military alliance shortly before the ceremony, when foreign minister Pekka Haavisto handed over his country’s accession documents to Blinken, the official keeper of the NATO treaty.
“With the receipt of this instrument of accession, we can now declare that Finland is the 31st member of the North Atlantic Treaty,” Blinken said. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, “We welcome Finland to the alliance.”
Finland “now has the strongest friends and allies in the world,” Stoltenberg said, adding before the ceremony: “Finland today, and soon also Sweden, will become a full-fledged member of the alliance.”
“President Putin had as a declared goal of the invasion of Ukraine to get less NATO,” Stoltenberg said. “He is getting exactly the opposite.” Blinken echoed the sentiment, saying Putin had “once again precipitated something he claims to want to prevent.”
NATO’s border with Russia will roughly double with the accession of Finland in a strategic and political setback for Putin, who has long complained about NATO’s expansion towards Russia and partly used it as a justification for the invasion.
On Tuesday, the Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said that NATO’s embrace of Finland was an “encroachment on our security and Russia’s national interests,” adding that Moscow would watch closely for any NATO military deployments there.
“The Russian Federation will be forced to take military-technical and other retaliatory measures to counter the threats to our national security arising from Finland’s accession to NATO,” the foreign ministry said.
The ministry added that the development marked “a fundamental change in the situation in Northern Europe, which had previously been one of the most stable regions in the world.” Russia said on Monday it would bolster its military capacity in its western and northwestern regions in response to Finland’s accession.
Stoltenberg played down Putin’s threat last month to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, saying on Tuesday that NATO had “not seen any changes in Russia’s nuclear posture that require any changes in our posture – but we will remain vigilant.”
Joining NATO means Finland falls under the alliance’s Article 5, a collective defense pledge stipulating that an attack on one NATO member “shall be considered an attack against them all.”
The country also brings a potent military force into the alliance, with a wartime strength of 280,000 and one of Europe’s largest artillery arsenals. Finland is one of few European countries to have maintained a conscription army – and its forces are trained and equipped with the primary aim of repelling an eventual Russian invasion.
Finland’s accession falls on the 74th anniversary of the signing of NATO’s founding Washington Treaty on 4 April 1949.
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN