Finland formally joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on Tuesday, more than doubling the length of the alliance’s border with Russia and drawing a warning of “retaliatory measures” from Moscow.
“Finland is stronger and safer within the alliance, and the alliance is stronger and safer with Finland as its ally,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a ceremony in Brussels.
Finland President Sauli Niinistö emphasized his country’s desire to promote stability in Europe. Finland and Sweden began seeking expedited NATO membership – and the military support it can provide – within weeks of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago. Sweden awaits approval.
“The era of nonalignment in our history has come to an end – a new era begins,” Niinistö said. His country’s blue-and-white flag was then raised outside NATO headquarters, the alliance marking its 74th anniversary by accepting its 31st member.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted congratulations to Finland on joining the “only effective security guarantee in the region amid Russian aggression.”
►A Russian court ordered Darya Trepova, 26, held for two months pending investigation in the death of pro-Kremlin military blogger Vladlen Tatarsky. Tatarsky, 40, died Sunday in a restaurant bomb blast that wounded 30. Russian authorities say Trepova’s Ukraine handlers had her deliver the bomb to Tatarsky in a statuette.
►Russian businessman Artyom Uss, who made a daring escape from house arrest in Italy, where he was nabbed on a U.S. warrant for breaching Western sanctions, has surfaced in Russia. Uss, the son of the governor of Russia’s Krasnoyarsk region, said he fled because Italian courts would’ve bowed to U.S. pressure to extradite him.
PREVIOUS UPDATES:Finland receives Turkey endorsement to join NATO
Russian military, Wagner mercenaries remain at odds: US official
Leaders of the Russian military and Wagner, its associated mercenary group, have been squabbling over the direction of the war in Ukraine, according to a senior Defense Department official. This comes after Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin recently complaining that the military is providing his thousands of soldiers with insufficient ammunition.
Battle lines in Ukraine have remained largely static, with heavy exchanges of artillery fire between U.S. and western-backed Ukrainian forces and Russia. There has been not significant movement in recent weeks, said the official who briefed reporters Tuesday on conditions set by the Pentagon.
The infighting among Russian commanders comes as Ukraine prepares an expected counteroffensive and the U.S. released another $2.5 billion in military aid. The official also said the Pentagon has trained about 4,000 Ukrainian troops split into brigades that will operate Stryker and Bradley armored personnel carriers. Training on U.S. Abrams tanks being sent to Ukraine has not yet occurred, the official said.
The Pentagon will also be buying trucks designed to carry 30mm guns that can shoot down Iranian drones that Russia has bought from Iran, the official said.
– Tom Vanden Brook
The U.S. will send Ukraine about $500 million in ammunition and equipment and will spend more than $2 billion to buy an array of munitions, radar and other weapons in the future, Blinken said in a statement. The package includes more ammunition for U.S.-provided HIMARS – light, multiple rocket launchers – air defense interceptors, artillery rounds, anti-armor systems, small arms, heavy equipment transport vehicles, and maintenance support “essential to strengthening Ukraine’s defenders on the battlefield,” Blinken said.
“This new security assistance will allow Ukraine to continue to bravely defend itself against Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war,” Blinken said.
Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement warning Finland’s membership in NATO would have a “negative impact” on relations between the two neighbors, which share a border of more than 800 miles. Russia “will be forced to take retaliatory measures of a military-technical and other nature” to stop perceived threats, the statement said. Details on those steps will depend on the conditions for Finland’s integration into NATO, the statement said.
“We are convinced that history will judge this hasty step taken by the authorities of this country without due regard for public opinion by organizing a referendum and a thorough analysis of the consequences of NATO membership,” the statement said.
WHAT IS NATO? History, facts, members and why it was created
Finland’s move to join NATO was triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year. Alarmed by the invasion, the long-neutral country applied to join in May, along with neighboring Sweden, seeking protection under the organization’s security umbrella.
The country shares an 832-mile border with Russia. Finland’s entry in NATO serves a major blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has long complained about the alliance’s expansion toward Russia.
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg emphasized the strategic benefits of Finland’s entry during remarks Monday, saying the country “will bring to the alliance substantial military forces – well trained, well equipped with also large reservist army.” Finland’s entry into NATO will also “more than double the size of the alliance’s border with Russia,” Stoltenberg said.
Turkey, the last country to ratify Finland’s NATO membership, sent official documents on Tuesday to Secretary of State Antony Blinken clearing the final hurdle for the country’s entry.
Meanwhile, Sweden, which also applied for NATO membership along with Finland in March, is still waiting to win approval, something Stoltenberg he expects in the coming weeks. Sweden has yet to fully implement new counter-terror legislation urged by Turkey that comes into effect on June 1.
Turkish President President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has accused Sweden of “opening its arms” to the the PKK and other anti-groups classified as terrorist organizations by Turkey.
“I’m absolutely confident that Sweden will become a member,” Stoltenberg said, adding that Finland’s ratification was the fastest in NATO’s modern history. “It’s a priority for NATO, for me to ensure that happens as soon as possible. “
NATO is an intergovernmental military alliance including two North American countries – the U.S. and Canada – and 28 European countries. It was founded in 1949 after the end of World War II.
With the signing of the alliance, NATO countries agreed to collective defense, meaning an attack on one ally should be considered an attack on all.
Contributing: The Associated Press