Finland has officially joined NATO today, completing a historic security policy shift triggered by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and dealing a major blow to the Russian despot.
Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto completed the accession process by handing over an official document to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken – the keeper of NATO’s founding treaty – at Nato headquarters in Brussels. They then watched on as the country’s flag was raised outside the HQ, joining the 30 others.
With the handing over of documents, the Nordic nation officially entered the world’s biggest security alliance, while doubling NATO’s border with Russia. The US, UK and Finland immediately called for the diplomatic path to be cleared for Sweden to follow suit and join Nato ‘without delay’.
‘Sweden is also a strong and capable partner that is ready to join Nato,’ Blinken said.
Meanwhile, a furious Moscow warned of ‘counter measures’ to what it called ‘a significant expansion of the conflict’ in Europe, on the same day that it said fighter planes in Belarus had been updated so they can carry nuclear weapons, and that cruise missiles had been shipped to the country.
Finnish military personnel install the Finnish national flag at the NATO headquarters in Brussels
Finland has become the 31st member of NATO wrapping up its historic strategic shift with a flag-raising ceremony in Brussels
Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto (left) completed the accession process by handing over an official document to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right) at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Centre: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg
Mr Haavisto shakes hands with Mr Blinken as Mr Jens Stoltenberg applauds during a joining ceremony at the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels
Pictured: A map showing how NATO has expanded since it was founded in 1949
Finland’s membership, hailed by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as a ‘historic day’, represents a major change in Europe’s security landscape.
The country adopted neutrality after its defeat by the Soviets in the Second World War but its leaders signalled they wanted to join the alliance just months after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine sent fear through Moscow’s neighbours.
The shift 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. The alliance says it poses no threat to Moscow, and that it works as a deterrent against Russian aggression – proved necessary by the invasion.
Earlier, Moscow warned that it will take counter-measures in response to Finland’s ascension, with Putin’s chief spokesman saying the Kremlin viewed the move as an ‘assault on our security’.
Meanwhile, NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said Finland’s joining showed Putin did not have the power to stop the alliance accepting new members.
‘President Putin wanted to slam NATO’s door shut. Today we show the world that he failed, that aggression and intimidation do not work,’ Mr Stoltenberg said.
Earlier, he called the latest expansion of the alliance a historic event and direct result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and promised to ensure that Finland’s fellow Nordic country Sweden would also join.
‘[Putin had as a declared goal of the invasion of Ukraine to get less NATO,’ Mr Stoltenberg told reporters ahead of a meeting of the alliance’s foreign ministers.
‘He is getting exactly the opposite… Finland today, and soon also Sweden will become a full fledged member of the alliance.’
US President Joe Biden said he is ‘proud’ to welcome Finland into NATO.
‘Together – strengthened by our newest ally Finland – we will continue to preserve transatlantic security, defend every inch of NATO territory,’ Biden said in a statement.
He also called on Turkey and Hungary to join the rest of NATO ‘without delay’ in ratifying Sweden’s entry into the alliance.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto hailed the start of a ‘new era’ for his nation.
‘The era of military non-alignment in our history has come to an end. A new era begins,’ Niinisto said, adding that he hoped to see neighbouring Sweden join soon. ‘Finland’s membership is not complete without that of Sweden,’ he said.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky quickly congratulated Finland on joining NATO, hailing the military alliance as the ‘only effective guarantee of security in the region’ in the face of Russian ‘aggression’.
‘My sincere congratulations to Finland and President Sauli Niinisto on joining NATO on the 74th anniversary of its founding,’ Zelensky said on social media.
Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also hailed Finland’s admission into the alliance. ‘Finland, welcome to NATO,’ he wrote in a statement posted on Twitter, while calling on other member nations to admit Sweden.
‘This is a historic day for you and for our alliance. It’s a step that makes every one of us safer. All NATO members now need to take the necessary steps to admit Sweden, so we stand together as one to defend freedom in Europe and across the world.’
UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who was at NATO’s headquarters, said: ‘Today we see, as a direct result of Vladimir Putin’s aggression and his illegal invasion of Ukraine, the day where a new ally joins our defensive alliance.’
He added: ‘Russia thought its aggression would divide us. Instead, we are bound tighter together, resolute in our defence of the principles of freedom and the rule of law. Let us be clear that our door remains open.
‘We will welcome further Allies with open arms and we continue to push for Sweden’s swift accession.’
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: ‘Let Finland be a lesson to President Putin. Finland chose to join, based on their own free will. The freedom to choose their alliances as a sovereign state is a matter for their citizens and their citizens alone.’
The start of the Kremlin’s offensive in Ukraine – a sovereign nation with its own intentions to join NATO – upended Europe’s security landscape and prompted Finland and Sweden to drop decades of military non-alignment.
The event marks the end of an era of military non-alignment for Finland that began after the country repelled an invasion attempt by the Soviet Union during the Second World War and opted to try to maintain friendly relations with neighbouring Russia.
But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year prompted Finns to seek security under the umbrella of NATO’s collective defence pact, which states that an attack on one member is an attack on all.
Sweden underwent a similar transformation in defence thinking and Stockholm and Helsinki applied together last year to join NATO. But Sweden’s application has been held up by NATO members Turkey and Hungary.
Ahead of the ceremony today, Russia raged against Finland’s ascension, branding its membership an ‘assault on our security’ and said it would take countermeasures.
‘The Kremlin believes that this is the latest aggravation of the situation,’ Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
‘The expansion of NATO is an assault on our security and Russia’s national interests,’ he added. ‘And this forces us to take countermeasures… in tactical and strategic terms.’ He did not provide further details on what these could be.
Earlier, Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said that Finland’s accession to the NATO military alliance – and NATO’s move to increase its own combat-readiness – increased the risk of conflict between Russia and the West.
Shoigu also said that some Belarusian military jets were now capable of carrying nuclear warheads and that Iskander rocket systems had been transferred to Belarus, which could be used to carry conventional or nuclear missiles.
Putin said last month that Russia would station tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus.
Russia used Belarus as a launchpad for its invasion last year and fears have remained high in Kyiv and the West that it could be further dragged into the conflict by Moscow, with some warning of a false-flag attack to justify Minsk’s involvement.
People stand in front of the Finnish national flag (centre) after a flag-raising ceremony at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, on April 4
Pictured: All 31 flags of NATO’s member states flutter outside the alliance HQ in Brussels
Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto (centre) delivers a speech at the ceremony to install the Finnish national flag at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, on April 4
A plaque along with Finland’s flag is seen at a roundtable discussion during a joining ceremony at the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting at the Alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, April 4
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock shows the seat to Finland Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto during an Allies Support to Ukraine meeting, during NATO foreign ministers’ meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels
Vladimir Putin’s chief spokesman said today that Moscow views Finland’s ascension to the western military alliance as an ‘assault on our security’, after the Russian despot ordered the invasion of Ukraine last year. Pictured: Ukrainian servicemen ride on a BMP infantry fighting vehicle near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, on April 3
Russia and Finland share a 800-mile border, and Moscow has already said it will beef up military divisions stationed in its west and northwest.
How does Finland joining NATO benefit the alliance?
As a NATO member, Finland is bound by the alliance’s mutual defence clause, Article 5.
It will benefit not only from its allies’ conventional military assistance but also from their nuclear deterrence.
In return, the Nordic nation, which intends to boost its defence budget by 40 percent by 2026, could contribute some of its military resources to defend the alliance.
The country of 5.5 million people counts just 12,000 professional soldiers.
But it trains more that 20,000 each year through its conscription service programme, giving the army a pool of 900,000 Finns as potential reserves.
This means that in case of war, the army can deploy 280,000 Finnish citizens at any one time.
It has a fleet of 55 F-18 US combat aircraft, which it plans to replace with more advanced F-35s from 2025 onwards, as well as 200 tanks and more than 700 artillery guns.
But the country joining NATO also means hundreds of extra kilometres of border to defend for the alliance.
Russia says one of the reasons it sent its armed forces into Ukraine in February 2022 was to counter a threat from what it said were Western plans to use Ukraine as a platform to threaten Russia.
It says it is now fighting a ‘hybrid war’ against NATO and the West, which is backing Ukraine with multi-billion-dollar packages of arms and financial support.
Ukraine, NATO and other western allies say Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is an illegal act of aggression, is nothing more than an imperialistic land-grab to satisfy the Kremlin’s expansionist ambitions, and an attempt to wipe Ukraine from the map.
Even before Finland formally joined the alliance, its armed forces have been drawing closer to NATO and its members.
NATO’s surveillance flights by the US and other allied air forces have already began to circulate in Finnish airspace, the Finnish defence forces said.
On March 24, air force commanders from Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark said they had signed a letter of intent to create a unified Nordic air defence aimed at countering the rising threat from Russia.
‘We would like to see if we can integrate our airspace surveillance more, so we can use radar data from each other’s surveillance systems and use them collectively,’ Major General Jan Dam, commander of the Danish air force, told Reuters.
Finns enjoying spring sunshine in downtown Helsinki on Monday said they were pleased the NATO membership process would soon be complete, even if some harboured reservations.
‘I feel maybe a little conflicted about joining NATO because I’m not the biggest fan of NATO but at the same time even less a fan of Russia,’ said Henri Laukkanen, a 28-year-old financial assistant.
Professor Michael Clarke, from the University of Exeter’s Strategy and Security Institute, told MailOnline that Finland’s ascension is ‘the most significant enlargement and military enhancement of NATO since German re-armament in 1955, and it is likely to have a dramatic effect.’
Finland joining the alliance ‘adds weight to NATO’s emerging political and military re-orientation towards the north of Europe and the Atlantic,’ he said.
‘After almost 80 years of strict neutrality, Finland will be a very consequential member of the alliance and add considerable military depth to NATO’s defensive posture in the Baltic,’ Clark said.
He added that it will be yet another setback for Putin as the Russian despot sees his supposed superior military forces struggle to break down Ukraine’s defences, and will have negative consequences for Moscow for years.
‘It will be another political headache for any leader in Moscow contemplating military pressure against NATO Europe. And in the awful event of a general European war, it would leave Russia’s northern flank wide open to an effective attack from Scandinavia,’ he said.
‘This vulnerability now confronts any Russian leader for the next several decades. And Putin has brought it all on Russia by embarking on his crazy war of aggression against a neighbour at the other end of the continent.
‘That’s statesmanship and strategy of the most perverse kind.’
Finland and Sweden had said they wanted to join NATO ‘hand in hand’ to maximise their mutual security but that plan fell apart as Turkey refused to move ahead with Stockholm’s bid.
Turkey says Stockholm harbours members of what Ankara considers terrorist groups – a charge Sweden denies – and has demanded their extradition as a step toward ratifying Swedish membership.
NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg speaks with the media as he arrives for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, April 4
Hungary is also holding up Sweden’s admission, citing grievances over criticism of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s democratic record.
But NATO diplomats say they expect Budapest to approve Sweden’s bid if it sees Turkey moving to do so. They hope Turkey will move after presidential and parliamentary elections in May.
Stoltenberg said he was ‘absolutely confident’ that Sweden will become a NATO member.
‘It’s a priority for NATO, for me, to ensure that happens as soon as possible,’ he said.