Finland joins NATO, dealing major blow to Russia

Finland joined NATO in a historic realignment amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, dealing a strategic and political blow to President Putin.
Posted at 9:36 AM, Apr 04, 2023

Finland joined the NATO military alliance Tuesday, dealing a major blow to Russia with a historic realignment of the continent triggered by Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

The Nordic country's membership doubles Russia's border with the world's biggest security alliance and represents a major change in Europe's security landscape: The nation adopted neutrality after its defeat by the Soviets in World War II. But its leaders signaled they wanted to join the alliance just months after Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine sent a shiver of fear through Moscow's neighbors.

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.

Russia warned that it would be forced to take "retaliatory measures" to address what it called security threats created by Finland's membership. It had also warned it would bolster forces near Finland if NATO sends any additional troops or equipment to what is its 31st member country.

The alliance says it poses no threat to Moscow.

Neighboring Sweden, which has avoided military alliances for more than 200 years, has also applied. But objections from NATO members Turkey and Hungary have delayed the process.

Alarmed by Moscow's invasion of Ukraine last year, Finland, which shares a 832-mile border with Russia, applied to join in May, setting aside years of military non-alignment to seek protection under the organization's security umbrella.

"I'm tempted to say this is maybe the one thing that we can thank Mr. Putin for because he once again here precipitated something he claims to want to prevent by Russia's aggression, causing many countries to believe that they have to do more to look out for their own defense and to make sure that they can deter possible Russian aggression going forward," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said just before accepting the documents that made Finland's membership official.

A meeting of NATO defense ministers

Why NATO is expanding

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The U.S. State Department is the repository of NATO texts concerning membership.

Earlier, Russia's Foreign Ministry said the country "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."

It said Finland's move marks "a fundamental change in the situation in Northern Europe, which had previously been one of the most stable regions in the world."

"I think this plays into the larger Russian narrative of NATO as a hostile force when NATO really is a defensive alliance," said Jason Moyer, a program associate at the Wilson Center's Global Europe Program, speaking to Scripps News. 'It is not meant to intimidate or encroach on Russian territory, it is a way of preventing Eastern European nations in particular from being bullied and invaded by Russia."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, meanwhile, Tuesday that Finland's membership reflects the alliance's anti-Russian course and warned that Moscow will respond depending on what weapons NATO allies place there.

But Peskov also sought to play down the impact, noting that Russia has no territorial disputes with Finland.

"It changes the strategy — the geostrategic landscape — and for Russia, it has always insisted that NATO's expansion eastwards was one of its key recommendations, including in the run up to the invasion of Ukraine," said Mathieu Droin, a visiting fellow in the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who spoke to Scripps News. "So of course, this is a this is very bad news for Russia and the exact contrary to what it expected in launching the invasion of Ukraine."

It's not clear what additional military resources Russia could send to the Finnish border. Moscow has deployed the bulk of its most capable military units to Ukraine.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg earlier said that no more troops would be sent to Finland unless it asked for help.

"There will be no NATO troops in Finland without the consent of Finland," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels a few hours before the country joins.

The country is now protected by what Stoltenberg called NATO's "iron-clad security guarantee," under which all member countries vow to come to the defense of any ally that comes under attack.

But Stoltenberg refused to rule out the possibility of holding more military exercises there and said that NATO would not allow Russia's demands to dictate the organization's decisions.

"We are constantly assessing our posture, our presence. We have more exercises, we have more presence, also in the Nordic area," he said.

NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs meet.

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President Biden's response to Finland joining NATO

In a statement Tuesday, President Biden shared his response to Finland joining NATO.

He said, "Today, I am proud to welcome Finland as NATO’s 31st Ally. 

Seventy-four years ago today—as the United States and 11 other nations came together to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—President Truman said, “if there is anything inevitable in the future, it is the will of the people of the world for freedom and for peace.” Today, that will is stronger than ever with the addition of Finland to NATO.

In May 2022, Finland and Sweden applied for NATO membership. Both countries are strong democracies with highly capable militaries, who share our values and vision for the world.  Less than a year later, we are welcoming Finland as a member—the fastest ratification process in NATO’s modern history. I look forward to welcoming Sweden as a NATO member as soon as possible, and encourage Turkiye and Hungary to conclude their ratification processes without delay.

When Putin launched his brutal war of aggression against the people of Ukraine, he thought he could divide Europe and NATO. He was wrong. Today, we are more united than ever. And together—strengthened by our newest Ally Finland—we will continue to preserve transatlantic security, defend every inch of NATO territory, and meet any and all challenges we face."

Scripps News contributed to this report.