‘Historic moment’ as Finland joins NATO; Russia issues warning

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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says he hopes Sweden will be able to join NATO in time for a July summit [Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP]

Finland to become 31st member of world’s biggest military alliance, prompting a warning from Russia.

Finland will become the 31st member of the world’s biggest military alliance on Tuesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says, prompting a warning from Russia that it would bolster its defences in response.

“This is a historic week,” Stoltenberg told reporters on Monday on the eve of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels. “From tomorrow, Finland will be a full member of the alliance.”

He said he hopes Sweden, who applied for membership at the same time as Finland, will also be able to join NATO in the coming months.

The former Norwegian prime minister said on Tuesday “we will raise the Finnish flag for the first time here at the NATO headquarters. It will be a good day for Finland’s security, for Nordic security and for NATO as a whole”.INTERACTIVE - NATO TIMELINE OF MEMBER states 2023 Finland

Stoltenberg said Turkey, the last NATO country to have ratified Finland’s membership, will hand its official texts to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday. Stoltenberg said he would then invite Finland to do the same.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen will attend the ceremony along with Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto.

“It is a historic moment for us,” Haavisto said in a statement. “For Finland, the most important objective at the meeting will be to emphasise NATO’s support to Ukraine as Russia continues its illegal aggression. We seek to promote stability and security throughout the Euro-Atlantic region.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said Moscow would respond to Finland becoming a NATO member by bolstering its defences.

“We will strengthen our military potential in the west and in the northwest,” Grushko said in remarks carried by the state RIA Novosti news agency. “In case of deployment of forces of other NATO members on the territory of Finland, we will take addition steps to ensure Russia’s military security.”

INTERACTIVE - Finland joins NATO April 2023

The announcement of Finland’s entry came just after Finnish voters gave a boost to conservative parties in weekend elections, depriving left-wing Prime Minister Sanna Marin of another term. Marin had championed her country’s NATO accession.

The Nordic neighbours Finland and Sweden abandoned their traditional positions of military non-alignment to seek protection under NATO’s security umbrella after Russia invaded Ukraine a little more than a year ago.

All 30 existing members signed Finland’s and Sweden’s accession protocols. Turkey and Hungary then delayed the process for months but have relented on Finland. Turkey has sought guarantees and assurances from the two countries, notably on tackling groups it considers “terrorist” organisations. Hungary’s demands have never been explicit.

NATO must agree unanimously for new members to join. NATO officials are eager to bring Sweden within the fold before a NATO summit in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, on July 11-12.

“Sweden is not left alone. Sweden is as close as it can come as a full-fledged member,” Stoltenberg said.

SOURCE: AP

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