Finland on Tuesday joined NATO in a historic shift triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
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 in Brussels on Tuesday. The United States Department of State is the repository of NATO texts concerning membership.
Jens Stoltenberg – head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the world’s largest military alliance – hailed “a good day for Finland’s security, for Nordic security and for NATO as a whole”.
Finland applied for NATO membership a year ago in May, alongside Sweden, as fears of Russian aggression rose in northern Europe following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
But Sweden is still waiting to join the group, which is now comprised of 31 members.
Finland’s border with Russia stretches across 1,340km (833 miles).
Russia casts NATO enlargement as a threat to its security and has said it will respond to Finnish membership by boosting its military capacity in its western and northwestern regions.
Moscow says one of the reasons why 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 multibillion-dollar packages of arms and financial support.
Just before accepting the documents, Blinken said: “I’m tempted to say this is maybe the one thing that we can thank [Russian President Vladimir] 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 defence and to make sure that they can deter possible Russian aggression going forward.”
Teivo Teivainen, professor of world politics at the University of Helsinki, told Al Jazeera: “Most people in Finland think that Finland is safe under the protection of the fifth article of NATO.”
The idea behind Article 5 is that if one NATO member is attacked, every country in the alliance should take it as an act of aggression.
The new membership “is considered to increase the security of Finland”, he said.
With Finland handing over accession documents, Finnish membership doubled the alliance’s border with Russia and represents a major change in Europe’s security landscape.
The country adopted neutrality after its defeat by the Soviets in World War II.
But months after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine sent a shiver of fear through Moscow’s neighbours, Finland’s leaders signalled they wanted to join the alliance.
The move is a strategic and political blow to Putin, who has long complained about NATO’s expansion towards Russia and partly used that as a justification for the invasion. The alliance says it poses no threat to Moscow.
Russia warned that it would be forced to take “retaliatory measures” to address what it called security threats created by Finland’s membership.
On Tuesday, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told Russia’s military leadership in a meeting that Finland’s accession “creates the risks of a significant expansion of the conflict” in Ukraine, according to a transcript published by his ministry.
But he said it would not affect the outcome of what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Russia has also warned that it will bolster forces near Finland if NATO sends any additional troops or equipment to what will be its 31st member country.
Neighbouring Sweden, which has avoided military alliances for more than 200 years, has also applied. But objections from NATO members Turkey and Hungary have delayed the process.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES RELATED