Finnish membership will double NATO’s land border with Russia, adding more than 800 miles. It will also strengthen the alliance’s presence in the Baltic Sea and improve its position in the Arctic.
To justify his unprovoked attack on Ukraine, Putin cited the possibility of NATO expansion. Now his war has brought a bigger and stronger NATO to his doorstep.
How Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine pushed Finland into NATO
At NATO headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday, Turkey – the last NATO country to ratify Finland’s membership – will hand over its documents to Secretary of State Antony Blinken as the United States is the depositary of the 1949 alliance treaty.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will invite Finland to do the same, officially making it the alliance’s 31st member.
“We will fly the Finnish flag for the first time here at NATO headquarters,” Stoltenberg said Monday. “It will be a good day for Finnish security, for Nordic security and for NATO as a whole.”
But the fact that the Swedish flag will not be raised also speaks to the challenge of keeping NATO allies together, even in the face of threats from Russia.
Finland and Sweden applied for membership on the same day last spring. Putin’s aggression in Ukraine convinced both countries of the need to abandon their position of non-military alignment. And they assessed that joining NATO as a whole, as quickly as possible, would be the best way to protect themselves from Russian retaliation.
Why Finland and Sweden were not part of NATO before
But membership applications must be approved by all existing NATO countries. And Turkey positioned itself as a killjoy, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan using the process to extract concessions and score domestic political points. Although he eventually reached out to Finland, he has continued to resist Sweden, citing Stockholm’s refusal to extradite what he calls “terrorists” affiliated with the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.
Hungary is also stagnating. Zoltan Kovacs, spokesman for the Hungarian government, filed a list of complaints last week against Stockholm, accusing its representatives of “using their political influence to harm Hungarian interests” and criticizing the country’s “crumbling throne of moral superiority”. It is not clear if Hungary has specific demands.
NATO officials and diplomats express confidence that both member states will eventually back down. But it’s not clear how soon that could happen. Few believe there will be a move before next month’s Turkish elections.
There is concern across the alliance that Turkey and Hungary have been willing to hand over a symbolic victory to Russia, and that the rest of NATO has been unable to stop them.
“The risk is that this creates a gap in NATO,” said Anna Wieslander, director for northern Europe at the Atlantic Council. “Allies need to pay more attention, collectively, to this process.”
Four maps explain how Finland could disrupt NATO security
On Monday, Stoltenberg stressed: “We must not give the impression… that Sweden was left alone.” He noted that some NATO allies have already offered bilateral security guarantees to Stockholm, and suggested that Finland’s full membership will also help keep neighboring Sweden safe.
Ben Hodges, a former US Army Europe commander, said the delay was not ideal, but would in fact be temporary. “Turkey is probably close to overplaying their hand, but they will squeeze as much as they can,” he said.
“No one should worry about NATO,” he added. “There’s a reason there’s a queue to join. No one knocks on the door of the Kremlin saying: ‘Hey, let’s go back inside.’”
Finnish officials continue to express their support for Sweden’s candidacy. Announcing that all 30 NATO members had ratified Finland’s membership last week, President Sauli Niinisto tweeted: “We look forward to welcoming Sweden to join us as soon as possible.”
In the years since Finnish soldiers on skis helped fight off the Soviet invaders, the country has aligned itself with Europe, joining the European Union and becoming a close NATO partner, while still trying to engage Russia.
But Putin’s invasion of Ukraine sparked a wave of support in Finland not only for sanctions on Russia, but also for becoming part of NATO and its mutual defense pact.
Although elections in Finland over the weekend resulted in the removal of Prime Minister Sanna Marin, it is not expected to change the country’s stance on NATO and Ukraine.
Russian officials have said they will beef up defenses in the country’s northwest in response to the Finnish membership, according to Russian media.
However, NATO officials and diplomats downplay the threat of significant Russian retaliation, pointing to its muted response to Finland’s offer thus far, as well as the fact that its forces are tied up in Ukraine.