Finland removes last obstacle to NATO membership with a swipe at Putin

(Bloomberg) – Finland is poised to join NATO in a few days, strengthening Europe’s security architecture and dealing a blow to President Vladimir Putin’s stated goal of preventing the defense alliance from advancing on the Russian border.

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Turkey’s parliament on Thursday unanimously voted to ratify Finland’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, paving the way for Russia’s Nordic neighbor to become the alliance’s 31st member.

The move marks a major shift for Finland and Sweden, both of which were seeking NATO membership after Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago. It also means a turning point for NATO insofar as Finland guards a border with Russia that is around 1,300 kilometers long.

“NATO must now improve military planning for this region,” Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “NATO will rule out possible risks for Finland, but we also emphasize that we have a very strong military.”

After the vote, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter that he welcomed the result and that ratification would make the “NATO family stronger and more secure”.

Both Turkey and Hungary signaled earlier this month that they would approve Finland’s solo accession after months of deadlock, decoupling the two Nordic nations’ bids even after both were invited to start accession processes last June. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Sweden of not doing enough to crack down on groups Turkey describes as terrorists, while Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s party has linked that country’s veto to a conflict within the European Union over the rule of law in Turkey connected.

Finland and Sweden have both already started integrating into the alliance and have been involved in every NATO meeting since they were invited last summer. But as a full member, Finland can benefit from Article 5 mutual defense obligations – meaning allies must come to its aid if attacked – and the Nordic country must be prepared to defend other allies as well.

“It’s a big change with a lot of continuity,” Minna Ålander, a researcher at the Finnish Institute for International Affairs, said of Finland’s membership in NATO. While the country has long been a close partner of the alliance, there will be a “major mentality shift that is needed because we are no longer alone and can count on help” instead of having to defend its territory alone. said Ålander.

This means that Finland’s membership will double the length of NATO’s border with Russia, which now covers just 6% of Russia’s land area. It will allow the Alliance to enhance its surveillance of Russia’s western flank with the help of the well-trained Finnish military, which is already using Alliance-compatible weapons. And while Russia poses a limited threat while it is currently bogged down in its war in Ukraine, allies do not want to underestimate Moscow’s ability to rebuild its forces after the war.

Finland’s membership will become official once it files its application for membership with the US State Department in Washington, which could happen in the coming days.

Finland’s accession should allow the bloc to further secure the area around the Baltic Sea in order to defend its Baltic members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which are often seen as potential targets of Russian aggression. It also brings another Arctic nation to the alliance, with a military trained for cold weather – a key advantage at a time when the Far North is gaining strategic importance given the increasing presence of Russia and China there.

For NATO, Finland’s ratification represents one of the fastest accessions in history, sealing membership in less than a year since the two Nordic countries applied last May. North Macedonia was the last to join the alliance, a process that lasted two decades. In addition to Sweden, other countries, including Ukraine and Georgia, are also at NATO’s doorstep.

“Finland now and in the future stands by Sweden and supports its bid,” Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin wrote on Twitter.

The focus now shifts to finalizing Sweden’s bid, which allies still hope will be completed in time for a leaders’ summit in Vilnius in July. However, Turkey’s elections in May are seen as crucial, as an uncertain outcome in Ankara could further delay the enlargement process. Sweden’s new anti-terrorism laws, which it hopes will have some impact on Turkey, are due to come into force in June.

Hungary’s parliament has yet to schedule a vote on Sweden’s bid, while government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs tweeted on Wednesday: “Sweden’s admission to NATO faces challenges as we raise concerns about ongoing grievances, including diplomatic bashing and a lack of care and respect. “

“Today we are happy for Finland,” wrote Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom on Twitter. “This is an important step forward for our sister nation and its NATO membership will contribute to the security of both Sweden and Finland.”

–With support from Niclas Rolander, Beril Akman, Maria Tadeo, Tom Mackenzie, Max Ramsay and Leo Laikola.

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