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Finland joins NATO, drawing warning from Moscow

By AFP - Apr 05,2023 - Last updated at Apr 05,2023

Finnish military personnel install the Finnish national flag at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday (AFP photo)

BRUSSELS — Finland became the 31st member of NATO on Tuesday, in a historic realignment of Europe's defences that drew an angry warning of "countermeasures" from the Kremlin.

Russia's all-out invasion of Ukraine last year upended Europe's security landscape and prompted Finland, and its neighbour Sweden, to drop decades of military non-alignment.

Finland's Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto formally wrapped up the process by handing Helsinki's accession papers to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the formal keeper of NATO's founding treaty.

"With receipt of this instrument of accession, we can now declare that Finland is the 31st member of the North Atlantic Treaty," Blinken said, at a ceremony in NATO's Brussels headquarters.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had "wanted to slam NATO's door shut. Today we show the world that he failed, that aggression and intimidation do not work".

“Finland now has the strongest friends and allies in the world,” he said.

Joining NATO places Finland under the alliance’s Article Five, the collective defence pledge that an attack on one member “shall be considered an attack against them all”.

This was the guarantee Finnish leaders decided they needed as they watched Putin’s devastating assault on Ukraine.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said: “It is a great day for Finland and I want to say that it is an important day for NATO.”

But Moscow erupted in fury at the move, which doubles its land border with NATO member states to 2,500 kilometres, branding it an “assault” on Russia’s security and national interests.

“This forces us to take countermeasures... in tactical and strategic terms,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Finland’s arrival nevertheless remains a bittersweet moment for the alliance as the hope had been for Sweden to come on board at the same time.

Budapest and Ankara remain the holdouts after belatedly agreeing to wave through Helsinki’s bid.

Sweden has upset Hungary’s leader Viktor Orban, one of Putin’s closest allies in Europe, by expressing alarm over the rule of law in Hungary.

It has also angered Turkey by refusing to extradite dozens of suspects that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan links to a failed 2016 coup attempt and the decades-long Kurdish independence struggle.

NATO diplomats hope Erdogan will become more amenable if he weathers elections next month and that Sweden will join before a NATO summit in Vilnius this July.

Ukraine is also pushing for eventual NATO membership, but Western diplomats say that still remains a distant prospect.

“There is no better strategic solution to ensuring strategic security in the Euro Atlantic region than the membership of Ukraine in the alliance,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.

NATO members in the meantime insist they are focused on providing Ukraine with the weaponry and support it needs to win the war with Russia.

Meanwhile, Belarusian troops have begun training on a nuclear-capable Russian missile system following President Vladimir Putin’s decision to deploy tactical weapons on Belarusian territory, Moscow and Minsk said on Tuesday.

Putin on March 25 said he would station tactical nuclear arms on Russia’s ally, a move that drew widespread criticism.

Tactical nuclear arms are battlefield weapons that, while devastating, have a smaller yield compared to long-range strategic weapons.

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