Brussels | Finland joined the NATO military alliance Tuesday, dealing a major blow to Russia with a historic realignment of the continent triggered by Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
The Nordic country's membership doubles Russia's border with the world's biggest security alliance and represents a major change in Europe's security landscape: The nation adopted neutrality after its defeat by the Soviets in World War II. But its leaders signalled they wanted to join the alliance just months after Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine sent a shiver of fear through Moscow's neighbours.
The move is a strategic and political blow to Putin, who has long complained about NATO's expansion toward Russia and partly used that as a justification for the invasion.
Russia warned that it would be forced to take “retaliatory measures” to address what it called security threats created by Finland's membership. It had also warned it would bolster forces near Finland if NATO sends any additional troops or equipment to what is its 31st member country.
The alliance says it poses no threat to Moscow.
Neighbouring Sweden, which has avoided military alliances for more than 200 years, has also applied. But objections from NATO members Turkiye and Hungary have delayed the process.
Alarmed by Moscow's invasion of Ukraine last year, Finland, which shares a 1,340 kilometre (832 mile) border with Russia, applied to join in May, setting aside years of military non-alignment to seek protection under the organisation's security umbrella.
“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 defence and to make sure that they can deter possible Russian aggression going forward,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said just before accepting the documents that made Finland's membership official.
The US State Department is the repository of NATO texts concerning membership.
Earlier, Russia's Foreign Ministry said the country "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, meanwhile, Tuesday that Finland's membership reflects the alliance's anti-Russian course and warned that Moscow will respond depending on what weapons NATO allies place there.
But Peskov also sought to play down the impact, noting that Russia has no territorial disputes with Finland.
It's not clear what additional military resources Russia could send to the Finnish border. Moscow has deployed the bulk of its most capable military units to Ukraine.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg earlier said that no more troops would be sent to Finland unless it asked for help.
“There will be no NATO troops in Finland without the consent of Finland,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels a few hours before the country joins.
The country is now protected by what Stoltenberg called NATO's “iron-clad security guarantee,” under which all member countries vow to come to the defence of any ally that comes under attack.
But Stoltenberg refused to rule out the possibility of holding more military exercises there and said that NATO would not allow Russia's demands to dictate the organisation's decisions.
“We are constantly assessing our posture, our presence. We have more exercises, we have more presence, also in the Nordic area,” he said.
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.
The hacker group, which has reportedly acted on Moscow's orders, has taken party in a slew of cyberattacks on the US and its allies in the past. Finnish public broadcaster YLE said the same group hit the Parliament's site last year.
Finland's entry, to be marked with a flag-raising ceremony at NATO headquarters, falls on the organisation's very own birthday, the 74th anniversary of the signing of its founding Washington Treaty on April 4, 1949. It also coincides with a meeting of the alliance's foreign ministers.
Finland's president, foreign and defence ministers will take part in the ceremony.
Turkey became the last NATO member country to ratify Finland's membership protocol on Thursday. It will hand over the document officially enshrining that decision to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken before the ceremony.
Finland's membership becomes official when its own foreign minister hands over documents completing its accession process to Blinken. The US State Department is the repository of NATO texts concerning membership.
Helsinki | Finland's parliamentary website was paralysed by a denial-of-service attack on Tuesday, just before the country made its historic entry into NATO, a move that more than doubles NATO's border with Russia and has angered Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The attacks — in which participants flood targets with junk data — made the parliament's site hard to use, with many pages not loading and some functions not available for a time.
A pro-Russian hacker group known as NoName057 (16) claimed responsibility, saying the attack was retaliation for Finland joining NATO. The hacker group, which has reportedly acted on Moscow's orders, has taken part in a slew of cyberattacks on the US and its allies in the past. The claim could not be immediately verified.
For the most part, Finns went about their business as usual on the bright cold day, belying the historic nature of Finland becoming the 31st member of NATO. Its membership was formalised with a series of steps in Brussels.
It's a moment that most Finns had never previously wanted as they balanced friendly ties with both the West and Russia. But all that changed with Russia's full-scale and brutal invasion of its neighbour Ukraine last year, creating a sudden and strong sense of insecurity that pushed the nation toward membership in the security alliance.
There were few outward signs of the geopolitical shift aside from the Finnish and NATO flags, both blue and white, fluttering against the backdrop of Helsinki's deep blue sky.
The NATO flags were raised alongside the national flags in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a building that was originally built for the military of the Russian Empire in the 19th century.
A regular flow of curious onlookers could be seen near the gates of the foreign ministry, trying to catch a glimpse of the flags.
Aki Luhtanen, a professor of psychiatric nursing who was among those stopping by the Foreign Ministry, said Russia's war on Ukraine feels very close and NATO membership offers protection now and for the long term.
“I think we should be aware and afraid of Russia,” Luhtanen said. “And I think in the future (it) is very, very important to belong to NATO.” It was on that same ministry building that Finnish authorities projected the colours of the Ukrainian flag after Russia's invasion last year, in an early sign of strong support for Kyiv.
Newspapers, leaders and commentators alike agreed that Tuesday was a historic day for the nation of 5.5 million people that shares a a 1,340-kilometer (832-mile) border with Russia.
“Until now, we have defended our country alone,” Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen told public broadcaster YLE on arrival in Brussels. “From now on, we can rely on getting outside help should things get tough. And of course, we are ready to help should someone be in trouble.” Kaikkonen will join President Sauli Niinisto and Haavisto, the foreign minister, for the events in Brussels.
“This is historically very significant for Finland. Finland has never been militarily aligned before in its history,” said Juhana Aunesluoma, professor of political history at the University of Helsinki. “Of course, many things changed when Finland joined the European Union in 1995, but Finland remained militarily nonaligned.” The ceremony in Brussels falls on NATO's very own birthday, the 74th anniversary of the signing of its founding Washington Treaty on April 4, 1949. It also coincides with a meeting of the alliance's foreign ministers.