Finland Clears Last Obstacle to NATO Entry With Turkish Nod

Turkey’s parliament voted to approve Finland’s membership in NATO, removing the final obstacle to the accession of Russia’s Nordic neighbor into the defense alliance as its 31st member.

(Bloomberg) — Turkey’s parliament voted to approve Finland’s membership in NATO, removing the final obstacle to the accession of Russia’s Nordic neighbor into the defense alliance as its 31st member.

Lawmakers in Ankara unanimously voted on Thursday to ratify Finland’s entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the last of current members to approve the expansion after the Hungarian parliament on Monday also backed the move. 

The vote seals a major change in the European security architecture after militarily non-aligned Finland and Sweden sought NATO membership in a U-turn following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a year ago. It also highlights divisions inside the bloc as Turkey and Hungary remain opposed to Sweden’s entry, with the timeline for the accession of the largest Nordic nation thrown in doubt.

Following the vote, NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter that he welcomed the result and that the ratification would make the “NATO family stronger and safer.”

Both Turkey and Hungary signaled earlier this month they’d approve Finland’s solo entry following months of stonewalling, decoupling the two Nordic nations’ bids even after both were invited last June to start accession proceedings. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses Sweden of not doing enough to crack down on groups that Turkey labels as terrorist, while the party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has linked that country’s veto to a clash inside the European Union over the rule of law.

Finland and Sweden have both already started integrating into the alliance and have been involved in all NATO meetings since they became invitees last summer. But as a full member, Finland can now benefit from Article 5 mutual defense commitments — meaning allies are bound to come to its aid if it’s under attack — and the Nordic country will have to be ready to defend other allies, too. 

“It’s a big change with a lot of continuity behind it,” Minna Ålander, a research fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, said of Finland’s membership to NATO. While the country has long been a close partner to the alliance, there will be a “huge change in mentality that is required because now we are not alone anymore and we can expect help,” instead of having to defend its territory on its own, Ålander said.

The move is a setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin since Finland guards a border with Russia roughly 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) long. This means Finland’s membership will double the length of NATO’s frontier with Russia, which now comprises just 6% of Russia’s land perimeter. It would enable the alliance to improve its surveillance of Russia’s western flank with the help of Finland’s well-trained military, which already uses weapons compatible with the alliance. And while Russia poses a limited threat while it is currently bogged down in its war in Ukraine, allies don’t want to underestimate Moscow’s ability to reconstitute its forces after the war.

Finland’s membership becomes official once it deposits its accession bid with the US State Department in Washington, which could happen in the coming days.

The Finnish entry is also set to enable the bloc to further secure the area around the Baltic Sea in defense of its Baltic members of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which are often seen as potential targets of Russian aggression. It also brings another Arctic nation into the fold of the alliance, one whose military is trained for cold weather — an important asset at a time when the High North is gaining in strategic importance in light of increased presence by Russia and China there.

For NATO, Finland’s ratification marks one of the swiftest accessions in history, sealing membership in less than a year since the two Nordic countries applied last May. North Macedonia was last to join the alliance, a process that took two decades. Along with Sweden, other countries, including Ukraine and Georgia, are also left waiting at NATO’s door.

“Finland stands with Sweden now and in the future and supports its application,” Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin wrote on Twitter.

The focus now shifts to finalizing Sweden’s bid, which allies still hope will conclude in time for a leaders’ summit in Vilnius in July. But the Turkish elections in May are seen as crucial, given that any uncertain outcome in Ankara could further delay the enlargement process. Sweden’s new anti-terrorism laws, which it hopes will go some way to sway Turkey, are scheduled to go into force in June.

The Hungarian parliament has yet to schedule a vote on Sweden’s bid, while government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs wrote in a tweet on Wednesday that “Sweden’s admission to NATO faces challenges as we’re raising concerns over lingering grievances, including diplomatic bashing and a lack of care and respect.” 

“Today we are happy for Finland,” Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Tobias Billstrom wrote on Twitter. “This is an important step forward for our sister nation and them becoming NATO members will contribute to both Sweden and Finland’s security.”

–With assistance from Niclas Rolander and Beril Akman.

(Updates with Sanna Marin tweet in the 12th paragraph.)

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