Finland becomes NATO’s 31st member during Brussels ceremony

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

With the handover of documents, the Nordic nation officially entered the world’s largest security alliance, doubling its border with Russia.

Finland’s accession represents a major change in Europe’s security landscape. The country adopted neutrality after its defeat by the Soviets in World War II, but its leaders have signaled they wanted to join the alliance just months after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine sparked fear among Russians. Moscow neighbors.

“The era of non-alignment in our history has come to an end, a new era begins,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said before his country’s blue and white flag was raised in front of NATO headquarters. .

A short distance away, outside the security fence, a few dozen people draped in their own flags chanted: “Ukraine needs NATO.”

Praising Finland’s membership, US President Joe Biden noted that it came on the 74th anniversary of the signing of NATO’s founding treaty on April 4, 1949.

“When Putin launched his brutal war of aggression against the Ukrainian people, he thought it could divide Europe and NATO. He was wrong,” Biden said in a statement.

“Today we are more united than ever. And together, strengthened by our new ally Finland, we will continue to preserve transatlantic security, defend every inch of NATO territory, and overcome any and all challenges we face.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sent his congratulations to Finland, writing on Telegram that “in the midst of Russian aggression, the Alliance became the only effective guarantee of security in the region.”

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Military personnel raise the Finnish flag at the NATO headquarters in Brussels (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP)

The move is a strategic and political coup for Putin, who has long complained about NATO’s expansion into Russia and partly used it as a justification for the invasion. The alliance says it does not pose a threat to Moscow.

Russia warned that it would be forced to take “retaliatory measures” to address what it called security threats created by Finland’s membership.

It also warned that it would bolster forces near Finland if NATO sends additional troops or equipment to its 31st member country.

Neighboring Sweden, which has avoided military alliances for more than 200 years, also submitted an application, but objections from NATO members Turkey and Hungary delayed the process.

Finland’s membership became official when its foreign minister handed over the documents completing its accession process to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The US Department of State is the repository for NATO membership-related texts.

Blinken said: “I’m tempted to say that this is perhaps the only thing we can thank Putin for because he once again precipitated here something that he says he wants to prevent with Russia’s aggression, which made many countries believe they had to do more. to take care of their own defense and make sure they can deter possible Russian aggression in the future.”

“It is a great day for Finland and also an important day for NATO,” said Mr. Niinisto. “Russia tried to create a sphere around itself and, well, we are not a sphere. I am sure that the Finns themselves feel more secure, that we are living in a more stable world.”

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Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP)

Earlier, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels that “there will be no NATO troops in Finland without Finland’s consent.”

But he refused to rule out the possibility of holding more military exercises there, saying NATO will not let Russia’s demands dictate the organization’s decisions.

“We are constantly evaluating our posture, our presence. We have more exercises, we have more presence, also in the Nordic zone”, she said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on 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.

“We will closely follow what will happen in Finland and how NATO will use the territory of Finland for the deployment of weapons, equipment and infrastructure next to our border that could threaten us. Action will be taken depending on that,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters.

But Peskov also tried to play down the impact, pointing out that Russia has no territorial disputes with Finland.

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

Stoltenberg said Finland would benefit from NATO’s “unwavering security guarantee”, under which all member countries pledge to come to the defense of any ally that comes under attack.

“By (Finland) becoming a full member, we are removing the space for a miscalculation in Moscow about NATO’s readiness to protect Finland, and that makes Finland safer and stronger, and all of us safer,” Stoltenberg said.


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