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WRAP-UP: Finland joins NATO in blow to Russia

04.04.2023 19:30
Finland has formally joined NATO, becoming the Western military alliance’s 31st member in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (left) shakes hands with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg smiles during a ceremony to admit Finland to NATO, at the alliances headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on Tuesday, April 4, 2023.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (left) shakes hands with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg smiles during a ceremony to admit Finland to NATO, at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on Tuesday, April 4, 2023.PAP/EPA/JOHANNA GERON / POOL

The Nordic country’s accession was finalised at a ceremony at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on Tuesday, Polish state news agency PAP reported.

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto deposited an official document, Finland’s so-called instrument of accession, with the US government, represented by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Finland's flag, made up of a blue cross on a white background, was raised alongside those of NATO’s 30 other members as a military band played in bright sunshine in the Belgian capital, the Reuters news agency reported.

The Finnish national anthem and the NATO Hymn were played during the ceremony.

'Finland will contribute to NATO’s collective deterrence and defence'

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö told reporters in Brussels: "It is a great day for Finland and I want to say that it is an important day for NATO.” 

He said: “Each country maximizes its own security. So does Finland. NATO membership strengthens our international position and room for manoeuvre. As a partner, we have already long actively participated in NATO activities. As an ally, Finland will contribute to NATO’s collective deterrence and defence.”

Niinistö declared: “Membership of the Alliance provides security for Finland. Finland, on the other hand, provides security for the Alliance. Finland, committed to the security of all NATO member states, will be a reliable ally that strengthens regional stability.”

He stated: “Last year, Finland applied to join NATO together with Sweden. As I have stressed, Finland’s membership is not complete without that of Sweden. Our persistent efforts for a rapid Swedish membership will continue. I look forward to seeing Sweden join us as the 32nd member at the Vilnius Summit in July.”

Putin’s 'aggression and intimidation do not work’: NATO chief

Speaking to reporters, NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: “I am deeply proud to welcome Finland as a full-fledged member of our alliance. And I look forward to also welcoming Sweden as soon as possible.”

He stated: “Finland now has the strongest friends and allies in the world.”

Stoltenberg told reporters that Russian President Vladimir Putin "wanted to slam NATO’s door shut," but "today, we show the world that he failed, that aggression and intimidation do not work.”

He added that “instead of less NATO," Putin "has achieved the opposite: more NATO, and our door remains firmly open.”

Sweden seeks to join NATO in July

Meanwhile, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said his country was “pleased” to see Finland join NATO, adding that its neighbour's membership would be beneficial “both for Finland and for Sweden,” according to the PAP news agency.

He also told reporters that it was Sweden's ambition to become a member at NATO's July summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, the Reuters news agency reported.

Billström stressed that the Hungarian and Turkish parliaments “have no reason” to hold up Sweden’s membership, the PAP news agency reported.  

'A very strong link on NATO’s eastern flank’: Polish FM

Poland’s Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau hailed Finland’s entry to the alliance, telling reporters that the country would be “a very strong link on NATO’s eastern flank.”   

Speaking before a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels, Rau said that “Finland is famous for its strong air force, strong artillery and very well-trained reserves,” adding it would represent “a very good boost” to NATO’s deterrence and defence capabilities, the PAP news agency reported.

Commenting on Finland’s accession to NATO, Poland’s top diplomat further stated: “We have reasons to be pleased, not only in the political sense. It’s  a confirmation of the unity of like-minded countries, a confirmation that the alliance is no less attractive than when it was created.”  

'Today, we are more united than ever': Biden

US President Joe Biden welcomed Finland’s entry to NATO, issuing a special statement on Tuesday.

He said: “When Putin launched his brutal war of aggression against the people of Ukraine, he thought he could divide Europe and NATO. He was wrong. Today, we are more united than ever. And together—strengthened by our newest ally Finland—we will continue to preserve transatlantic security, defend every inch of NATO territory, and meet any and all challenges we face.”

Biden noted that Finland had been admitted to NATO “less than a year” after applying for membership, calling it "the fastest ratification process in NATO’s modern history.”

He stressed that Sweden should also be admitted “as soon as possible.”

The US president stated: “Both countries are strong democracies with highly capable militaries, who share our values and vision for the world ... I look forward to welcoming Sweden as a NATO member as soon as possible, and encourage Turkey and Hungary to conclude their ratification processes without delay.”

Ukraine’s Zelensky congratulates Finland

Following Finland’s accession to NATO, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a tweet: “Sincere congrats to Finland and President Niinistö on joining NATO on the 74th anniversary of its founding. NATO became the only effective security guarantee in the region amid Russian aggression.”

Zelensky added: “We expect NATO summit in Vilnius will bring Ukraine closer to our Euro-Atlantic goal.”

Russia vows to take ‘countermeasures’

Finland has a 1,300-kilometre border with Russia, which means that NATO's frontier facing Russia will now roughly double in length, according to news outlets.

The Kremlin said on Tuesday that Russia would be forced to take "counter-measures" to Finland's accession, the Reuters news agency reported. 

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the move raised the prospect of the conflict in Ukraine “escalating further,” according to Reuters.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned that Russia would be "watching closely" what happens in Finland, and described NATO's enlargement as a "violation of our security and our national interests," British broadcaster the BBC reported.

On Monday, Russia said it would strengthen its army in the western and northwestern regions in response to Finland joining NATO, according to news outlets.

Finland joins NATO, Sweden’s bid held up

Finland and fellow Nordic country Sweden asked to join NATO in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February last year, abandoning decades of military non-alignment, according to news outlets.   

As Finland joins NATO, Sweden’s application has been held up by Turkey and Hungary, Polish state news agency PAP reported.

Turkey says that Sweden harbours members of what Ankara considers terrorist groups - a charge denied by Stockholm - and has demanded their extradition as a step toward ratifying Swedish membership of NATO, according to Reuters.

For its part, Hungary is citing grievances over Sweden’s criticism of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s record on democracy and rule of law, Reuters reported. 

Tuesday is day 405 of Russia’s war on Ukraine.


Source: IAR, PAP, Reuters, presidentti.fi, NATO, whitehouse.gov, BBC