Finland to join Nato as hold-out Turkey approves membership bid
Finland is set to join Nato “in days” after Turkey’s parliament voted to ratify its membership bid, submitted in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Turkey was the last among Nato’s members to ratify the bid, after months of negotiations between Ankara and Helsinki. All 276 MPs present voted in favour.
“All 30 Nato allies have now ratified the accession protocol,” the alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said on Friday. “Finland will formally join our alliance in the coming days.”
Finland’s entrance into Nato is a significant moment. It shares an 830-mile border with Russia, and the two nations fought ferociously during the Second World War. Helsinki also possesses one of the most powerful arsenals in Western Europe.
Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan had raised concern that Finland and Sweden, who submitted their Nato bids at the same time, had not taken his country’s security concerns about Kurdish separatists and militants seriously. Ankara is still holding off approving Sweden’s membership demanding more action against what it claims is support for what Mr Erdogan’s government deems “terrorist” groups.
“Finland has taken more steps compared to Sweden in the context of the fight against terrorism,” the state-run Anadolu Agency quoted government ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) MP Ismail Ozdemir as saying.
Helsinki was officially neutral during the decades of the Cold War and 30 years afterward, even as it integrated into the European Union and cooperated deeply with Nato on sensitive security matters.
Finland opted to join Nato following Russian president Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine last year. It was set to enter alongside Sweden, but both countries’ efforts have been held up by Turkey and Hungary. The Budapest government of prime minister Viktor Orban, who has long been a friend of President Putin, appeared eager to not run too afoul of the Kremlin. Both nations are also irked by Western criticism of their authoritarian tendencies. Both were not invited to a United States democracy summit this week.
However, Hungary ratified Finland’s entrance into Nato earlier this week.
Analysts and Turkish political insiders say that Sweden will also likely be given the green light by Ankara, probably after the 14 May presidential and parliamentary elections.
Mr Putin has repeatedly hit out at what he sees as Western interference in Ukraine and has framed his war as a way to prevent a further eastern expansion of Nato.
Finland would add to Nato’s strengths. Its armed forces and intelligence services are known as sharply focused on Russia and the Kremlin, with a deep institutional understanding of Moscow’s ways. Unlike other Scandinavian countries. It has maintained mandatory military conscription and has spent robustly on defence.
Despite a population of just 5.5 million people, Finland has a potential ground force of 280,000 troops, including reserves – more than the United Kingdom.
“Given Finland’s long border with Russia and its history of being conquered by Russia and the Soviet Union, it has in many ways a more in-depth understanding of Russia and a track record of cultivating knowledge in Russian studies,” said Mai’a Cross, a professor of international relations at Boston’s Northeastern University.
Ms Cross recently visited with Finland’s armed forces commanders and soldiers as part of a diplomatic mission. “Finland’s military is suddenly transforming itself in preparation for membership in Nato,” she said. “It is becoming far more visible in society, and changing its military training to take into account a far greater international dimension as well as a broader scope of action.”
Finland’s geography would give Nato a major presence on Russia’s borders and more tools to defend Baltic states formerly under the Kremlin’s dominion. But Finland, like the Baltic States, is also within easy range of Russian tactical weapons.
The vote in Ankara on Thursday could also help the prospects of Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin ahead of national elections on Sunday.
Mr Erdogan is also running for reelection in a tightly contested race that many consider the biggest challenge to his rule he has faced in his 20 years as Turkey’s leader. Mr Erdogan said Wednesday that Mr Putin may visit Turkey ahead of the elections to launch the country’s first atomic power plant – a Rosatom-built 4,800-megawatt nuclear reactor in the city of Akkuyu.