Finland formally became the 31st member of NATO on Tuesday, officially ending the country’s post-World War II policy of neutrality and raising tensions between Helsinki and Moscow.
“Finland has today become a member of the defense alliance NATO. The era of military non-alignment in our history has come to an end. A new era begins,” the Finnish presidency said in a statement.
The ascension into NATO was completed during a ceremony attended by Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
Finland joining NATO more than doubles the alliance’s territory that borders Russia. Moscow has said it will respond by beefing up its military presence in the region and will take more measures if other NATO countries deploy military assets to Finnish territory.
“The Kremlin believes that this is another aggravation of the situation. The expansion of NATO is an infringement on our security and Russia’s national interests,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in response to the news.
A major motive for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine was NATO’s post-Cold War expansion and the alliance’s cooperation with Kyiv following the 2014 coup that ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
At the ceremony, Blinken appeared to say he was thankful that Putin invaded Ukraine because it motivated Finland to apply for NATO membership.
“I’m tempted to say this is maybe the one thing that 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 defense and to make sure that they can deter possible Russian aggression going forward,” Blinken said.
Leading up to the invasion of Ukraine, Russia presented a list of security guarantees it sought from the US. Chief among them was a guarantee that Ukraine would never join NATO, but the Biden administration refused to engage on the issue. After the invasion, Derek Chollet, a counselor to Blinken, admitted that the administration made no effort to address Putin’s concerns about Ukraine’s possible NATO membership.
Peskov said Tuesday that Finland joining NATO was not as provocative to them as Ukraine being granted membership. “The situation with Finland, of course, is radically different from the situation with Ukraine, because, firstly, Finland has never had anti-Russian rhetoric, and we have had no disputes with Finland. With Ukraine, the situation is the opposite and potentially much more dangerous,” he said.