The Kremlin warned that Russia would take countermeasures in response to Finland’s accession to NATO, ahead of the official flag-raising ceremony later in the day.
Moscow views Finland’s elevation into the Western military alliance as an “assault on our security,” said Vladimir Putin’s main spokesman, after the Russian autocrat ordered an invasion of sovereign Ukraine last year.
Meanwhile, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg described the recent enlargement of the alliance as a historic event and a direct consequence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and promised to ensure that Sweden, the northern Finnish country, would join Sweden.
“(…) Putin’s declared goal for invading Ukraine was to reduce NATO,” Stoltenberg told reporters before a meeting of NATO foreign ministers.
“He got exactly the opposite … Today’s Finland, and soon Sweden will also become a full member of the coalition,” he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said today that Moscow views Finland’s rise to the Western military alliance as an “assault on our security,” after the Russian autocrat ordered an invasion of sovereign Ukraine last year. In the photo: Ukrainian soldiers ride a BMP infantry fighting vehicle on a road near Pakhmut, Donetsk region, on April 3.
The Finnish and NATO flags flutter in the courtyard of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Helsinki, Finland, prior to joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on April 4.
Finland is today the 31st member of NATO, in a historic strategic shift triggered by Moscow’s attack on Ukraine, which nearly doubles the borders of the US-led alliance with Russia.
The initiation of the Kremlin’s offensive in Ukraine – a sovereign country with its own intentions of joining NATO – has upended the security landscape in Europe and prompted Finland and Sweden to abandon decades of military non-alignment.
The event marks the end of an era of military non-alignment for Finland that began after the country fended off an invasion attempt by the Soviet Union during World War II and chose to try to maintain friendly relations with neighboring Russia.
But Russia’s latest invasion of another neighbor, Ukraine, which began in February 2022, has prompted the Finns to seek security under the umbrella of NATO’s Collective Defense Pact, which states that an attack on one member is an attack on all.
Sweden underwent a similar shift in defense thinking and Stockholm and Helsinki applied together last year to join NATO. But NATO members Türkiye and Hungary blocked Sweden’s request.
After these two countries approved Finland’s request last week, the final official step of the Helsinki trip will come when Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto hands over his country’s accession document to US government officials in Brussels.
Then the country’s blue and white flag will be raised next to its new allies, the nations of Estonia and France, in front of the gleaming headquarters in Brussels.
Before today’s ceremony, Russia rallied against Finland’s rise, calling its membership an “assault on our security” and saying it would take countermeasures.
“The Kremlin believes that this is the latest exacerbation of the situation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
He added, “NATO expansion is an attack on our security and Russia’s national interests.” This forces us to take countermeasures… both tactically and strategically. He gave no other details of what it could be.
Earlier, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Finland’s accession to NATO’s military alliance — and NATO’s move to increase its combat readiness — increases the risk of conflict between Russia and the West.
Shoigu also said that some Belarusian military aircraft are now capable of carrying nuclear warheads and that Iskander missile systems have been transferred to Belarus, which can 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 springboard for its invasion last year, and fears remained high in Kiev and the West that it might be drawn into the conflict by Moscow, with some warning of a false attack to justify Minsk’s involvement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with employees of the Tulazeldurmash Factory of Railway Machinery and Equipment Manufacturer in Tula, Russia, April 4.
Russia and Finland share an 800-mile border, and Moscow has already said it will reinforce military divisions stationed in the west and northwest.
Russia says one of the reasons it sent its armed forces to 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 engaged in a “hybrid war” against NATO and the West, which backs Ukraine with billions of dollars in arms packages and financial support.
Ukraine, NATO and other Western allies say Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is an illegal act of aggression, nothing more than an imperial grab of land to satisfy the Kremlin’s expansionist ambitions, and an attempt to wipe Ukraine off the map.
Even before Finland officially joined the alliance, its armed forces were getting closer to NATO and its members.
The Finnish Defense Forces said that NATO reconnaissance flights by the United States and other allied air forces have already begun to be deployed in Finnish airspace.
On March 24, the air force chiefs from Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark said they had signed a letter of intent to create a unified Nordic air defense aimed at countering the growing threat from Russia.
“We’d like to see if we can integrate our airspace monitoring more so that we can use radar data from each other’s monitoring systems and use it collectively,” Major General Jan Damme, commander of the Danish Air Force, told Reuters.
Enjoying the spring sunshine in downtown Helsinki on Monday, Finns said they were glad the NATO membership process would soon be completed, even if there were some reservations.
“Maybe I feel a bit conflicted about joining NATO because I’m not a big fan of NATO, but at the same time I’m not a big fan of Russia,” said Henri Laukanen, a 28-year-old financial assistant.
Finland and Sweden had said they wanted to join NATO “hand in hand” for maximum mutual security, but that plan collapsed because Turkey refused to go ahead with the Stockholm bid.
Turkey says Stockholm harbors members of what Ankara considers terrorist groups – an accusation Sweden denies – and has demanded their extradition as a step towards ratifying Sweden’s membership.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to the media as he arrives for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, April 4.
Hungary has also stopped accepting Sweden, citing grievances over criticism of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s democratic record.
But NATO diplomats say they expect Budapest to agree to Sweden’s bid if it sees Turkey moving to do so. They hope Türkiye will act after the presidential and parliamentary elections in May.
Stoltenberg said he was “absolutely confident” that Sweden would become a member of NATO.
“It is NATO’s priority, for me, to ensure that this happens as soon as possible,” he said.