Finland Joins NATO, Forcing Massive Expansion Along Russian Border

April 5th, 2023 - by Emily Rauhala and Missy Ryan / The Washington Post & Dave DeCamp /

Finland Joins NATO, Doubling
Alliance’s Land Border With Russia
Emily Rauhala and Missy Ryan / The Washington Post 

(April 4, 2023) — inland formally joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on Tuesday, a historic shift for a country that once insisted it was safer outside the military alliance and a sign of how Russian President Vladimir Putin’s gamble in Ukraine is upending the post-Cold War order.

Finnish membership will double NATO’s land border with Russia, adding more than 800 miles. It will also bolster the alliance’s presence around the Baltic Sea and enhance its position in the Arctic.

To justify his unprovoked attack on Ukraine, Putin cited the possibility of NATO expansion. Now, his war has brought a bigger, stronger NATO to his door.

“I am tempted to say, maybe this is the one thing that we can thank Mr. Putin for,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Brussels on Tuesday.

Russia’s invasion has caused “many countries to believe that they have to do more, to look out for their own defense and to make sure they can deter possible Russian aggression going forward,” he said.

Russia’s response on Tuesday was muted.

“We will be watching closely what is going on in Finland, how the NATO alliance will use Finnish territory in terms of deploying weapons, systems and infrastructure there, which will be close to our borders and therefore threaten us,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in his daily briefing to journalists. “Depending on this, measures will be taken.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov added his own condemnation of the development on state television. “Perhaps I can describe the current condition of our relations by one word: a wreck,” he said. “Relations are ruined, and the United States is responsible for that.”

NATO officials and diplomats downplayed the threat of significant Russian retaliation, noting Moscow’s cautious response to Finland’s bid, as well as the fact that its forces are tied up in Ukraine. Experts say the addition of Finland, which like Sweden punches above its weight in terms of military might, represents an enhancement of overall NATO security, despite the alliance’s responsibility to defend the new member if required.

Finland’s Parliament on Tuesday reported that its public-facing website had been hit by a denial-of-service attack, but it was not immediately clear who was behind it or whether it was connected to the NATO news.

Finland’s membership became official on Tuesday with a transfer of papers at NATO’s Brussels headquarters. Turkey — the last country to ratify Finland’s membership — handed its documents to Blinken, as the United States is the depository of NATO’s 1949 treaty. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg then invited Finland to do the same, concluding the accession process.

At a ceremony outside, the Finnish flag was raised. “From today, 31 flags will fly together as a symbol of our unity and solidarity,” Stoltenberg said moments before. “Joining NATO is good for Finland, good for Nordic security and good for NATO as a whole.”

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomes Finland to NATO.

But the fact that Sweden’s flag did not go up alongside Finland’s spoke to the challenge of keeping NATO allies united, even in the face of Russia’s threats.

Finland and Sweden applied for membership on the same day last spring. Putin’s aggression in Ukraine convinced both countries of the need to abandon their stance of military nonalignment. And they assessed that joining NATO in tandem, as quickly as possible, would be the best way to shield themselves from Russian retaliation.

But membership applications must be approved by all existing NATO countries. And Turkey positioned itself as a spoiler, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan using the process to extract concessions and score domestic political points. Although he ultimately came around on Finland, he has continued to hold out on Sweden, citing Stockholm’s refusal to extradite those he calls “terrorists” affiliated with the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

Hungary is stalling, too. Zoltan Kovacs, a spokesman for the Hungarian government, laid out a list of grievanceslast week against Stockholm, accusing its representatives of “using their political influence to harm Hungarian interests” and lambasting the country’s “crumbling throne of moral superiority.” It is not clear whether Hungary has specific demands.

NATO officials and diplomats express confidence that both member states will eventually back down. But it is not clear how soon that might happen. Few believe there will be movement before Turkish elections next month.

There is concern across the alliance that Turkey and Hungary have been willing to hand a symbolic victory to Russia — and that the rest of NATO has not been able to stop them.

“The risk is that this brings a wedge into NATO,” said Anna Wieslander, director for Northern Europe at the Atlantic Council. “Allies need to pay more attention, collectively, to this process.”

Previewing Finland’s accession on Monday, Stoltenberg stressed: “We should not leave the impression … that Sweden is left alone.” He noted that some NATO allies have already offered bilateral security assurances to Stockholm, and he suggested that full membership for Finland will help keep neighboring Sweden safe, too.

Ben Hodges, a former commander of US Army Europe, said the delay was not ideal but would indeed be temporary. “Turkey is probably close to overplaying their hand, but they will squeeze as much out of it as they can,” he said.

“Nobody should be worried about NATO,” he added. “There’s a reason there is a queue to join. Nobody is knocking on the Kremlin’s door saying, ‘Hey, let us back in.’”

In the years since Finnish soldiers on skis helped fight off Soviet invaders, the country has aligned itself with Europe, joining the European Union and becoming a close NATO partner, while still trying to engage Russia.

But Putin’s invasion of Ukraine prompted a surge of support in Finland not only for sanctions on Russia but also for becoming part of NATO and its mutual defense pact.

Although an election in Finland over the weekend resulted in the ousting of Prime Minister Sanna Marin, the country’s stance on NATO and Ukraine is not expected to change.

It’s a deal: Finland agrees to join NATO.

Blinken said Tuesday: “Finland has a highly capable military and has been an active participant in NATO-led operations; it also shares our values and strong democratic institutions. We are confident Finland’s membership will strengthen our collective defense and enhance our ability to respond to security challenges in the Euro-Atlantic area.”

He added that “Sweden is also a strong and capable partner that is ready to join NATO,” and he urged Turkey and Hungary to ratify Sweden’s membership “without delay.”

Blinken is in Brussels for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers that includes Ukraine’s Dmytro Kuleba.

Speaking ahead of the talks, Kuleba urged his country’s supporters to transfer promised weaponry as quickly as possible. “I came here to NATO to speed up deliveries of what has already been pledged to Ukraine, primarily artillery ammunition, infantry armored vehicles, personnel armored carriers, everything that Ukraine needs for a successful counteroffensive,” he said.

Kuleba also referenced Ukraine’s goal of joining NATO, which remains a distant prospect. “Finland’s accession is a clear message that the time to revise all strategies and old perceptions has come,” he said. “There is no better solution to ensuring Euro-Atlantic security as a whole than the eventual membership of Ukraine in NATO.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky congratulated Finland, making reference to his country’s desire to join NATO and a summit of alliance leaders that will be held in the Lithuanian capital in July.

“Amid Russian aggression, the alliance became the only effective guarantee of security in the region,” he said in a message on Telegram. “We expect that the Vilnius #NATOSummit will bring Ukraine closer to our Euro-Atlantic goal.”

NATO massively expands its presence along Russian border.

Finland Formally Joins NATO,
Doubling the Alliance’s Border With Russia
Dave DeCamp /

Finland formally became the 31st member of NATO on Tuesday, officially ending the country’s post-World War II policy of neutrality and raising tensions between Helsinki and Moscow.

“Finland has today become a member of the defense alliance NATO. The era of military non-alignment in our history has come to an end. A new era begins,” the Finnish presidency said in a statement.

The ascension into NATO was completed during a ceremony attended by Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

Finland joining NATO more than doubles the alliance’s territory that borders Russia. Moscow has said it will respond by beefing up its military presence in the region and will take more measures if other NATO countries deploy military assets to Finnish territory.

“The Kremlin believes that this is another aggravation of the situation. The expansion of NATO is an infringement on our security and Russia’s national interests,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in response to the news.

Blinken says he wanted to
‘thank’ Putin for giving Finland
a reason to join NATO

A major motive for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine was NATO’s post-Cold War expansion and the alliance’s cooperation with Kyiv following the 2014 coup that ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

At the ceremony, Blinken appeared to say he was thankful that Putin invaded Ukraine because it motivated Finland to apply for NATO membership.

“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,” Blinken said.

Leading up to the invasion of Ukraine, Russia presented a list of security guarantees it sought from the US. Chief among them was a guarantee that Ukraine would never join NATO, but the Biden administration refused to engage on the issue. After the invasion, Derek Chollet, a counselor to Blinken, admitted that the administration made no effort to address Putin’s concerns about Ukraine’s possible NATO membership.

Peskov said Tuesday that Finland joining NATO was not as provocative to them as Ukraine being granted membership. “The situation with Finland, of course, is radically different from the situation with Ukraine, because, firstly, Finland has never had anti-Russian rhetoric, and we have had no disputes with Finland. With Ukraine, the situation is the opposite and potentially much more dangerous,” he said.

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