Finland has joined the NATO military alliance, completing a historic security policy shift triggered by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and dealing a major blow to the Russian despot.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto completed the accession process by handing over an official document to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken – the keeper of NATO’s founding treaty – at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
With the handing over of documents, the Nordic nation officially entered the world’s biggest security alliance, while doubling NATO’s border with Russia.
Finland’s membership, hailed by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as a ‘historic day’, represents a major change in Europe’s security landscape.
The country adopted neutrality after its defeat by the Soviets in the Second World War but its leaders signalled they wanted to join the alliance just months after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine sent fear through Moscow’s neighbours.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (left) completed the accession process by handing over an official document to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right) at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Centre: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg claps during a joining ceremony at the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting at the Alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium April 4
Pictured: A map showing how NATO has expanded since it was founded in 1949
The move is a strategic and political blow to Putin, who has long complained about Nato’s expansion toward Russia and partly used that as a justification for the invasion. The alliance says it poses no threat to Moscow, and that it works as a deterrent against Russian aggression – proved necessary by the invasion.
Earlier, Moscow warned that it will take counter-measures in response to Finland’s ascension, with Putin’s chief spokesman saying the Kremlin viewed the move as an ‘assault on our security.’
Meanwhile, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg called the latest expansion of the alliance a historic event and direct result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and promised to ensure that Finland’s fellow Nordic country Sweden would also join.
‘[…] Putin had as a declared goal of the invasion of Ukraine to get less NATO,’ Stoltenberg told reporters ahead of a meeting of the alliance’s foreign ministers.
‘He is getting exactly the opposite… Finland today, and soon also Sweden will become a full fledged member of the alliance,’ he said.
Finland joining NATO roughly doubles the US-led alliance’s border with Russia.
The start of the Kremlin’s offensive in Ukraine – a sovereign nation with its own intentions to join NATO – upended Europe’s security landscape and prompted Finland and Sweden to drop decades of military non-alignment.
The event marks the end of an era of military non-alignment for Finland that began after the country repelled an invasion attempt by the Soviet Union during World War Two and opted to try to maintain friendly relations with neighbouring Russia.
But Russia’s recent invasion of another neighbour, Ukraine, which began in February 2022, prompted Finns to seek security under the umbrella of NATO’s collective defence pact, which states that an attack on one member is an attack on all.
Sweden underwent a similar transformation in defence thinking and Stockholm and Helsinki applied together last year to join NATO. But Sweden’s application has been held up by NATO members Turkey and Hungary.
After both those countries approved Finland’s application last week, the final formal step on Helsinki’s journey will come when Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto hands his nation’s accession document to U.S. government officials in Brussels.
Then the country’s blue-and-white flag will be raised next to those of its new allies, between those of Estonia and France, in front of the gleaming headquarters in Brussels.
Ahead of the ceremony today, Russia raged against Finland’s ascension, branding its membership an ‘assault on our security’ and said it would take countermeasures.
‘The Kremlin believes that this is the latest aggravation of the situation,’ Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
‘The expansion of NATO is an assault on our security and Russia’s national interests,’ he added. ‘And this forces us to take countermeasures… in tactical and strategic terms.’ He did not provide further details on what these could be.
Earlier, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said that Finland’s accession to the NATO military alliance – and NATO’s move to increase its own combat-readiness – increased the risk of conflict between Russia and the West.
Shoigu also said that some Belarusian military jets were now capable of carrying nuclear warheads and that Iskander rocket systems had been transferred to Belarus, which could be used to carry conventional or nuclear missiles.
Putin said last month that Russia would station tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus.
Russia used Belarus as a launchpad for its invasion last year and fears have remained high in Kyiv and the West that it could be further dragged into the conflict by Moscow, with some warning of a false-flag attack to justify Minsk getting involved.
Vladimir Putin’s chief spokesman said today that Moscow views Finland’s ascension to the western military alliance as an ‘assault on our security’, after the Russian despot ordered the invasion of sovereign Ukraine last year. Pictured: Ukrainian servicemen ride on a BMP infantry fighting vehicle on a road near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, on April 3
Finnish and Nato flags flutter at the courtyard of the Foreign Ministry in Helsinki, Finland, ahead of accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on April 4
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with employees of a plant of Tulazheldormash railroad machinery and equipment manufacturer in Tula, Russia, April 4
Russia and Finland share a 800-mile border, and Moscow has already said it will beef up military divisions stationed in its west and northwest.
Russia says one of the reasons why it sent its armed forces into Ukraine in February 2022 was to counter a threat from what it said were Western plans to use Ukraine as a platform to threaten Russia.
It says it is now fighting a ‘hybrid war’ against NATO and the West, which is backing Ukraine with multi-billion-dollar packages of arms and financial support.
Ukraine, NATO and other western allies say Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is an illegal act of aggression, is nothing more than an imperialistic land-grab to satisfy the Kremlin’s expansionist ambitions, and an attempt to wipe Ukraine from the map.
Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hailed Finland’s admission into the alliance.
‘Finland, welcome to NATO,’ he wrote in a statement posted on Twitter, while calling on other member nations to admit Sweden.
‘This is a historic day for you and for our alliance. It’s a step that makes every one of us safer. All NATO members now need to take the necessary steps to admit Sweden, so we stand together as one to defend freedom in Europe and across the world.’
Even before Finland formally joined the alliance, its armed forces have been drawing closer to NATO and its members.
NATO’s surveillance flights by the U.S. and other allied air forces have already began to circulate in Finnish airspace, the Finnish defence forces said.
On March 24, air force commanders from Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark said they had signed a letter of intent to create a unified Nordic air defence aimed at countering the rising threat from Russia.
‘We would like to see if we can integrate our airspace surveillance more, so we can use radar data from each other’s surveillance systems and use them collectively,’ Major General Jan Dam, commander of the Danish air force, told Reuters.
Finns enjoying spring sunshine in downtown Helsinki on Monday said they were pleased the NATO membership process would soon be complete, even if some harboured reservations.
‘I feel maybe a little conflicted about joining NATO because I’m not the biggest fan of NATO but at the same time even less a fan of Russia,’ said Henri Laukkanen, a 28-year-old financial assistant.
Finland and Sweden had said they wanted to join NATO ‘hand in hand’ to maximise their mutual security but that plan fell apart as Turkey refused to move ahead with Stockholm’s bid.
Turkey says Stockholm harbours members of what Ankara considers terrorist groups – a charge Sweden denies – and has demanded their extradition as a step toward ratifying Swedish membership.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks with the media as he arrives for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, April 4
Hungary is also holding up Sweden’s admission, citing grievances over criticism of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s democratic record.
But NATO diplomats say they expect Budapest to approve Sweden’s bid if it sees Turkey moving to do so. They hope Turkey will move after presidential and parliamentary elections in May.
Stoltenberg said he was ‘absolutely confident’ that Sweden will become a NATO member.
‘It’s a priority for NATO, for me, to ensure that happens as soon as possible,’ he said.