Finland has officially joined NATO, doubling the length of the border that NATO shares with Russia and strengthening its eastern flank as the war in Ukraine continues without any resolution in sight. The move is a historic policy shift for Finland, which had maintained a policy of military non-alignment for decades. Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto completed the accession process by handing over an official document to US State Secretary Antony Blinken at NATO’s HQ. The flag of Finland was hoisted alongside those of the alliance’s 30 other members as a military band played in bright sunshine.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg declared at the ceremony that “For almost 75 years, this great alliance has shielded our nations and continues to do so today. But war has returned to Europe and Finland has decided to join NATO and be part of the world’s most successful alliance.” Russian President Vladimir Putin had previously cited opposition to NATO’s eastward enlargement as one justification for invading Ukraine.
Finland’s accession to NATO brings significant military capabilities to the alliance. Finland is one of the few European countries to have retained a conscription army through decades of peace, wary of Russia next door. Additionally, Finland’s ground, naval, and air forces are all trained and equipped with one primary aim — to repel any Russian attack.
The Kremlin has reacted negatively to Finland’s accession to NATO, threatening “counter-measures” and warning of the potential for the conflict in Ukraine to escalate further. Moscow has watched successive waves of NATO enlargement to the formerly communist east of Europe with consternation, and the issue was a bone of contention even before the invasion of Ukraine.
Despite Russian opposition, Helsinki residents welcomed Finland’s entry into NATO, saying they feel more secure. However, residents of the Russian city of St Petersburg, which is only 150km from the Finnish border, expressed concern that Finland could be making problems for itself by joining NATO.
Finland and its Nordic neighbor Sweden applied together last year to join NATO, but the Swedish application has been held up by NATO members Turkey and Hungary. Sweden hopes to become a member at the NATO summit in Vilnius in July, but Turkey and Hungary have cited grievances over terrorism and democracy, respectively.
Finland’s accession to NATO marks a significant shift in its foreign policy and provides important military capabilities to the alliance. However, it has also drawn threats and warnings from Russia, highlighting the continued tensions between Russia and NATO. The move is likely to have far-reaching consequences for the security of the region and the relationship between Russia and NATO in the coming years.