Finland joins NATO in historic shift, Russia threatens ‘counter-measures’
Finland ends military disengagement held since 1945 NATO membership spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ‘Big day for Finland’, important day for NATO – Swedish president’s bid to join NATO pushed by Turkey and Hungary
HELSINKI/BRUSSELS, April 4 (Reuters) – Finland formally joined NATO on Tuesday, with its flag unfurled outside the military bloc’s headquarters in Brussels, in a historic policy shift prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, drew a threat from Moscow of “countermeasures”. “.
Finland’s admission roughly doubles the length of the border NATO shares with Russia and strengthens its eastern flank as the war in Ukraine rages on with no resolution in sight.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto completed the accession process by handing over an official document to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at NATO headquarters.
Finland’s flag – a blue cross on a white background – was raised alongside the flags of 30 other alliance members as a military band played in the sunshine.
“For almost 75 years, this great alliance has protected our nations and continues to do so today,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg declared at the ceremony. “But the war has returned to Europe and Finland has decided to join NATO and be part of the most successful alliance in the world.”
Stoltenberg earlier noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin had cited opposition to NATO’s eastward expansion as a justification for the invasion of Ukraine.
“He is getting the exact opposite… Finland today, and soon Sweden will also become a full member of the alliance,” Stoltenberg said in Brussels.
Finnish President Saul Niinisto said that Finland’s most important contribution to NATO’s common deterrence and defense would be the defense of its territory. There is still significant work to be done to coordinate this with NATO, he said.
“It’s a big day for Finland, and I mean it’s an important day for NATO,” Niinisto said at a joint press conference with Stoltenberg.
The Kremlin said Russia would be forced to take “countermeasures” for accepting Finland. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the move raised the possibility that the conflict in Ukraine could escalate further.
Russia had said on Monday that it would strengthen its military capacity in its western and northwestern regions in response to Finland’s NATO membership.
The Ukrainian government also welcomed Finland’s move. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak wrote on Telegram: “FI made the right choice. NATO is also a key target for Ukraine.”
THE END OF MILITARY NON-UNION
The event marks the end of an era of military non-commitment for Finland that began after the country repelled an invasion attempt by the Soviet Union during World War II and decided to try to maintain friendly relations with neighboring Russia.
But the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 prompted the Finns to seek security under NATO’s collective defense pact, which says an attack on one member is an attack on all.
Moscow, which has long criticized the move, reacted strongly.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said NATO expansion was a “violation of our security and Russia’s national interests.” Moscow will closely monitor any NATO military deployment in Finland, he said.
Since the end of the Cold War three decades ago, Moscow has watched with dismay at successive waves of NATO expansion in Europe’s former communist east, and the issue was a bone of contention even before the invasion of Ukraine.
NATO has repeatedly emphasized that it is only a defensive alliance and does not threaten Russia. Moscow says the deployment of heavy weaponry to Ukraine by NATO countries since the start of the war proves the West is determined to destroy Russia.
Finland’s admission brings to NATO significant military capabilities developed over the years, as it is one of the few European countries to have maintained a conscript army during decades of peace, wary of neighboring Russia. Furthermore, Finland’s land, sea and air forces are all trained and equipped with one main goal – to repel any Russian attack.
On their way to work on Tuesday, Helsinki residents welcomed Finland’s entry into NATO, saying they felt safer.
“I think it’s a good thing that Finland is joining NATO. We’ve been here next to Russia for many years,” said Outi Lantimaki, 59, a designer at a shipyard. “My father was at war with the Russians, so this is like a personal thing for me.”
People in the Russian city of St Petersburg, just 150 km (93 miles) from the Finnish border, said Finland could create problems for itself by joining NATO.
“I don’t think this is a very pleasant thing because we had good neighborly relations with Finland for a long time. NATO membership is not based on anything. But I hope that reason will prevail and there will be no bad, conflicts military after that”, said a resident who only gave his name as Alexi.
Finland and its Nordic neighbor Sweden applied together last year to join NATO, but the Swedish application has been blocked by NATO members Turkey and Hungary.
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstroem told reporters it was Stockholm’s ambition to become a member at the NATO summit in Vilnius in July.
Turkey says Stockholm harbors members of what Ankara considers terrorist groups – a charge Sweden denies – and has sought their extradition as a step towards ratifying Swedish membership.
Hungary cites complaints regarding criticism of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s record on democracy and the rule of law.
Reporting by Anne Kauranen and Tom Little in Helsinki, Andrew Gray, Kate Abnett, Jan Strupczewski and Sabine Siebold in Brussels; writing by Angus MacSwan and Mark Heinrich, editing by Jonathan Oatis and Nick Macfie
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