Finland officially joined Nato on Tuesday, doubling Russia’s border with the pro-Western defensive alliance.
At a ceremony at Nato headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto completed the accession process by handing over an official document to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Finland, which shares a 1,340-kilometre (832-mile) border with Russia, cast aside its long-held policy of military non-alignment in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to join Nato in a bid to secure itself against potential Russian aggression.
Under Nato’s iron-clad security pact, an attack on one member state is treated as an attack on all – meaning that any Russian encroachment on Finnish territory will now provoke a military response from 30 nations including the US, UK, France and Germany.
Analysts say the step is a nightmare scenario for Russian president Vladimir Putin, who invaded Ukraine in part to minimise Western influence close to Russia’s borders – but now faces the possibility of Nato troops and defensive installations within just 330km (200 miles) from Russia’s second-largest city, St Petersburg.
Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg noted that Mr Putin had cited opposing Nato expansion as a justification for the invasion, adding: “He is getting exactly the opposite… Finland today, and soon also Sweden will become a full-fledged member of the alliance.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “I’m tempted to say this is maybe the one thing we can thank Mr 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.”
Russia said on Monday it would strengthen its military capacity in its western and northwestern regions – though it is unclear what additional military resources Russia could send to the Finnish border, given the bulk of its most capable military units have been deployed to Ukraine.
The Kremlin said Russia “will be forced to take military-technical and other retaliatory measures to counter the threats to our national security arising from Finland’s accession to Nato”.
It said Finland’s move marks “a fundamental change in the situation in Northern Europe, which had previously been one of the most stable regions in the world.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Nato expansion was an “encroachment on our security and on Russia’s national interests” – while Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the move raised the prospect of the conflict in Ukraine escalating further. Moscow would watch closely for any Nato military deployments in Finland, they added.
Mr Stoltenberg said “there will be no Nato troops in Finland without the consent of Finland,” but did not rule out the possibility of holding more military exercises there.
Meanwhile, Finland’s parliament said that its website was hit with a so-called denial-of-service attack, which made the site hard to use, with many pages not loading and some functions not available.
A pro-Russian hacker group known as NoName057 (16) claimed responsibility, saying the attack was retaliation for Finland joining Nato. The claim could not be immediately verified.
Sweden applied to join Nato at the same time as Finland, but its application continues to be held up due to a dispute with member state Turkey.
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstroem told reporters it was Stockholm’s ambition to become a member at the Nato summit in Vilnius in July.
“This is a question of utmost importance for Sweden…There is no reason for either the Turkish parliament or the Hungarian parliament to make any further delays,” he said.
Turkey says Stockholm harbours members of what Ankara considers Kurdish terrorist groups – an accusation Sweden denies – and has demanded their extradition as a step toward ratifying Swedish membership.
Ukraine also dreams of joining Nato – though it will not be able to do so while the current conflict is raging.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak wrote on Telegram: “Finland made the right choice. Nato is also a key goal for Ukraine.”